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Aspects of Greece's Foreign Policy:
Europe, the USA, and the Eastern Mediterranean on
the Eve of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games
Speech by Ambassador of Greece
George V. Savvaides
at the Ambassador Briefing Series of the World Leaders Symposium,
Baker & McKenzie Conference Room
Washington, DC, 13 January 2004
I wish to thank the World Leaders’ Symposium Committee, and especially Mr. Mark Grobmyer (Chairman of the World Leaders Symposium Committee) and Mr. Joe O’Brien (Programme Chairman), for inviting me to speak to you about Greece in the new millennium as part of the Ambassador Briefing Series.
Today I feel happy because I have been given the opportunity to present to you the fundamental considerations of Greece’s foreign policy with its three basic points of reference: namely, our membership in the EU and NATO, our strong bilateral relationship with the United States, and our policies in the areas of our geopolitical vicinity, namely, the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean. I will also proceed to a presentation regarding the 2004 Athens Olympic Games.
Let me start with Europe, not only for institutional reasons but mainly for sentimental ones. When Greece signed her association agreement in 1962, with the then European Economic Community, it was the first European country outside the Community to be provided with such an opportunity. When it acceded in 1981, as the Community’s 10th member, Greece was again the first country of the European southeast and the Mediterranean region to join the EEC since its foundation in 1957.
More than twenty years have elapsed since then; Greece remains the only EU and NATO country in the area, the most prosperous one, and with a firm commitment and contribution to peace and stability in the broader region.
In the meantime Greece, thanks to the efforts of its government and the sacrifices of its people – who had accepted years of austere economic policies – managed to become the twelfth member of the Eurozone. Additionally, since the 1st of January 2002, the common European currency, the Euro, replaced our historic national currency, the drachma. It was an historic step further affirming the successful integration of our country into the group of the most developed western European countries, members of the EU.
Moreover, Greece assumed on the 1st of January 2003, and for the fourth time since its integration in the EU, the six-month rotating Presidency of the Union. The message we chose for our Presidency was the following:
Our Europe – Sharing the Future in a Community of Values.
Our message reflected a purpose: to promote a community of values, values which recognize the citizens’ right to security, democracy, and a better quality of life; values which will create institutions guaranteeing their participation and equality; and values which will help the European citizen feel that his or her voice is heard as a member of a new single family.
As every EU Presidency, Greece set a number of major priorities five of which it tried hard to successfully promote during its term of office. For the sake of time, I will mention them as titles without evaluating them, as we can do that during the Q & A session. The priorities were the following:
However, the major challenge that we faced during our Presidency was the Iraqi crisis. To face it, the Presidency undertook a double effort; firstly, to achieve the maximum possible unity of approach within the Union and among Union members, and secondly, to minimise, in light of the diverging approaches and methodologies between the US and some key EU Member States, the adverse effect on the extremely valuable transatlantic relationship. Both targets were achieved at least partially during the period of the crisis; however, in subsequent months, and specifically since last April, we all witnessed a spectacular prospect of cooperation between the EU and the US on Iraq and a more spectacular improvement of their transatlantic relationship, as was confirmed during the most recent EU-US Summit which was held in Washington on June 25th. The Summit, which constitutes an annual activity of the transatlantic dialogue, was the last major event of our Presidency. It provided an extremely productive forum for political and economic discussion on major world issues, and it also produced an important number of agreements between the two sides in terms of legal texts and joint declarations – what we usually call "deliverables".
Let me now leave the European and transatlantic arena and turn to our bilateral relations with the US, which are currently characterized by quality, dynamism, and positive future prospects.
To be more specific, I would say that relations between Greece and the United States, which are evolving both bilaterally and within the Atlantic Alliance, always took a prominent position in our foreign policy’s objectives and priorities.
The US-Greek relationship can trace its historic and cultural origins in the vast philhellenic movement that permeated Europe in the first decades of the 19th century. This immensely helped the Greek nation to stage its successful war of independence from the Ottoman Empire and form the first Greek State in 1830.
Ever since, this relationship developed dynamically, and it was helped tremendously by a number of factors: the increasing presence of the Greek immigrants to the US since the last decades of the 19th century, the siding of our two countries in all major wars of the 20th century, and the very close strategic cooperation between them that has existed since the end of WW II. I cannot say that this strong relationship has always been unperturbed and devoid of misunderstandings and disappointments. However, our common values and mutual interests have always had the upper hand.
I am happy, today, to see a bilateral relationship which is characterized by the absence of any significant problems between our two countries. Our relationship is based, and must continue to be based, on trust, common ideals, and commonality of purpose. Our relationship also needs enhanced and enduring dynamism, exploring and exploiting new facets and parameters of cooperation, coordination, and joint initiatives. In this respect, the value of Greece vis-ŕ-vis the US clearly surpasses mere political or geostrategic considerations, which certainly are offered by other countries of the region.
Greece’s added value lies exactly where others may have less to offer, namely in its solid system of democratic governance, its strong economy, its open-minded society and its unique contribution to European history and civilisation. Such elements render her a historic friend, partner, and ally of the US. Taken together, they provide America with a very good platform for serving both Greek and US interests in the Balkans, in the Mediterranean, and the broader region.
The Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean constitute Greece’s geopolitical vicinity. This is the region where Greeks in ancient times lived, fought their wars, cooperated with other peoples, and propagated their language and culture. In our days all these elements have translated into historic knowledge, human contact and understanding, and a feeling of interdependence in the areas of security and stability, to say the least.
The Balkans traditionally have been considered the powder keg of Europe. In the early 90’s when both the Soviet Union and Former Yugoslavia collapsed, the elements of disintegration, ethnic strife, economic backwardness and lack of democratic institutions came suddenly to the surface. What followed is well known and does not need to be repeated today.
What Greece felt absolutely necessary to do, either as part of her national policies or through NATO and the EU, was to work towards devising comprehensive policies for the region, policies designed to address such important issues as the cessation of hostilities between previous ethnic components of the same state, democratisation of countries and societies, stabilisation measures which included good neighbourliness, inviolability of borders, peaceful resolution of disputes, plain condemnation of terrorism etc., as well as economic development programs and infrastructure, integration of the Balkan countries in the Euro-Atlantic structures and finally regional politico- economic initiatives.
Apart from interventions in all these areas, Greece contributed and continues to contribute heavily to the economic prosperity of these countries, because it believes that political stability without economic development is meaningless. Greece’s efforts in this domain are twofold:
First, through substantial Greek private investment in all Balkan countries. In fact, figures of 2001 indicate that out of a $ 5,600 billion dollars total foreign investment in these countries, $ 2.4 billion was Greek.
Second, through a Greek national plan for the reconstruction of the Balkans amounting to $ 550 million over five years – a plan approved by the Greek Parliament and made already available to six Balkan countries through bilateral agreements.
Finally, and without entering into details, the last Greek Presidency of the EU has presented a specific set of priorities for the Western Balkans, covering five countries and addressing issues such as Peace, Stability and Democratic Development, the carrying forward of the Stabilisation and Association Process of the EU with these countries, Adapting this (SAP) Process to the environment following the EU enlargement, launching the Balkan Integration Process and finally focusing on specific horizontal issues of significance to the region.
We sincerely hope that the combination of all these national and European efforts will be of crucial importance and will have a beneficial effect on this unstable, volatile part of Europe.
The Eastern Mediterranean is an area of historic importance for Greece’s Foreign Policy. There are two issues that require our continuing attention there: the Cyprus issue and the Arab-Israeli conflict. Both produce tension and instability not only between and among their main players but also to their contiguous geostrategic periphery. As such they continue to adversely affect Mediterranean and European security. Let me say a few things on each of them:
There is good news concerning Cyprus’ European future. The European Union decided last December to include Cyprus in the group of ten countries which will accede to it in 2004. In fact, the Republic of Cyprus signed the EU Accession Treaty in Athens on April 16th of this year. The integration will take place irrespective of the resolution of the political problem and the artificial division of the Republic of Cyprus due to Turkey’s invasion of the island in 1974, with its military forces still occupying 37% of its territory. Cyprus’ European integration along with the similar one of Malta constitutes an important milestone for the EU too, which in December last year decided on a twofold expansion towards the East and the South. But at the same time Cyprus’ integration constitutes the first and single move of visionary dimensions concerning a possible exit from the impasse of an unacceptable status-quo emanating from years of ethnic strife, foreign military intervention and the events of 1974 which caused endless suffering, division and forced displacement and separation of people and families. We are happy to have seen the US supporting the EU integration course of Cyprus considering it as also supportive of achieving the resolution of its long-standing political problem.
However, and despite the positive outlook regarding Cyprus’ European future, its political problem still remains unresolved. Efforts through the UN Secretary General’s good offices to bring about a just, viable and functional settlement have failed, so far, due to the Turkish intransigence. The proposal of the UN Secretary General, for a comprehensive solution of the Cyprus problem – the so-called Annan Plan – was accepted by the Greek Cypriot side as a basis for negotiation and possible solution, but was rejected by the Turkish Cypriot side; The Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. Denktash, insists on his demands for two states in Cyprus loosely linked in the form of a confederation – demands which are rejected by the entire international community. The solution must conform to the U.N.S.C. resolutions, which provide for a bi-communal and bi-zonal Cypriot federation with a single legal personality and with the human rights of all its people both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot guaranteed. It is also understood that the arrangement should be in compliance with the European acquis, a fact which will require certain amendments to the Annan plan, following Cyprus’ integration in the EU. This, of course, presupposes the acceptance of the plan by the Turkish Cypriots as a basis for a solution, something which, as I had previously mentioned, is not the case as of today.
Missing the opportunity to resolve the Cyprus problem before the 1st of May, 2004, when Cyprus will officially become a member of the European Union, would certainly have adverse repercussions on Turkey’s bid to start accession negotiations with the EU in 2005 because everybody knows that Turkey holds the key for the resolution of the Cyprus problem. It is hardly possible for Turkey to successfully pursue her own European agenda and press for a concrete date to start her accession negotiations leading to her future integration in the EU, if she continues blocking any progress in Cyprus and in fact occupying a substantial part of the territory of an EU member state by military force.
We therefore hope that for a combination of reasons pertaining not just to Cyprus but also to Turkey’s European aspirations and for broader reasons regarding the future of Greek-Turkish relations, Turkey will sooner or later support an honourable Cyprus settlement; we sincerely hope sooner.
And I turn now to the second issue of great concern to all of us, not just to the Israelis and Arabs, be they Palestinians or others.
At the outset, I wish to note that Greece has managed over the years to forge credible links with Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab world in general, through close relations with all countries and peoples in the area. This allowed us to speak frankly to all sides and to contribute with initiatives in helping defuse the crisis and restart the peace process. As a country with important interests in the area we feel that a broadening crisis may well damage those interests. We therefore feel an increased responsibility to work for the security and stability of the region.
We are working nationally, bilaterally, and even multilaterally within the European Union context for this purpose. It is absolutely imperative that the vicious circle of terrorism and violence be stopped, that extremists from whatever side are discouraged and isolated, and that the Palestinian side quickly takes important decisions concerning its internal situation and cohesion, its future political course, and proceeds to institution building and the necessary democratic reforms. Human life and activities must return to their normal rhythm and course. It is crucial that the right of both the Israelis and the Palestinians to live in separate states within secure borders is clearly recognized, implemented and respected, that a full scale mid-term program of economic reconstruction and development for the Palestinians, financed by international sources, is introduced and applied and that the peace process aimed at resolving the totality of the problems between Israel and the Arabs and not just the Palestinians is revived and given another chance of success.
In setting these objectives and priorities, I recognise the need for a step by step approach but within a comprehensive format. I fully understand that these ideas are not new and the sequence of their implementation could undoubtedly play a role. In the past most of them have been theoretically accepted by both sides, however, when they cautiously started to be implemented, extremism and violence undermined them at their early stages.
If someone were to ask me whether I am optimistic about their future success and why, I would respond that their chances depend exclusively on the political will, the realism, and the measured pragmatism of the parties involved. If they demonstrate the necessary pragmatism which would certainly need to have drawn the necessary but bitter conclusions, that the methodology of endless bloodshed and hatred didn’t lead anywhere but to accumulated suffering and political impasse, then there is a chance that they translate pragmatism to political will to get out of the today’s lamentable situation and proceed accordingly, seeking peace, security and coexistence.
Needless to say that the international community, through various formats, the most recent one being the so-called Quartet consisting of the USA, the EU, Russia and the UN, remains closely preoccupied with the evolving crisis and committed to its resolution. It has worked on and adopted a plan of actions in the form of a road map to lead us out from the crisis and reinvigorate the peace process. It includes a list of proposals addressed to the two sides, to be implemented gradually and successively. The map includes the necessary mix of political, military, institutional and practical steps leading to its fundamental aims. It has also received the required political support and visibility from the highest echelons of its four drafting participants.
Recent events, however, concerning the peace process through the implementation of the road map are very disappointing. On the one hand, the proven inability or unwillingness of the Palestinian leadership to suppress the extremist-terrorist segments of its side, and on the other hand, the merciless – even if it is justifiable – reaction of Israel in the form of heavy individual and collective reprisals against terrorist acts vis-à-vis its state and citizens’ security, tend to bring the entire peace effort to a dead end. This is both politically and strategically unacceptable, and would constitute a real reward for all those who are determined to destroy any future for the entire Middle East. Both the US and the EU have a genuine stake in this affair and must continue cooperating until a secure and prosperous future is offered to both Israelis and Palestinians and the broader region.
It would be amiss to conclude today’s presentation without referring to the 2004 Athens Olympics.
When Athens was chosen in 1997 to host the Games, winning over Rome in the final vote, it was more than a satisfying win over its competitors. For Greeks, both at home and abroad, the prospect of the Games returning to the place where they were born nearly 3,000 years ago. and to the city that saw their revival in modern times in 1896, was both an honourable salute and an exciting challenge. Greeks are excited because they want to host unique Games on a human scale, linking the modern with the ancient by bringing the Olympic movement back to its roots and avoiding the excessive commercialism of recent Olympics.
Visitors to the Athens Olympics will no doubt be asking themselves: What kind of country will they experience? Let me say a few words about that.
Greece of today, let alone Greece of 2004, with all the infrastructure in place, new roads, new airport, new metro, is by no means the somewhat underdeveloped country on the outer fringes of Europe that comes to the minds of many people. Although only a small country of some 11 million people, Greece has recently gone through a process of rapid modernisation. Not to bore you with too many statistics, I would only point out that with a GDP of $180 billion and a per capita income of $17,000, according to the latest World Bank report, Greece is rapidly transforming itself into a country where, in addition to its famous archaeological heritage and natural beauty, visitors to the Olympics will find all the comfort and facilities that travellers hope for.
All this points to the broader significance for Greece of hosting the 2004 Olympics. More than just a salute to its ancient and special link to the Olympic tradition, the IOC decision in 1997 was a vote of confidence in Greece of today, a country with a glorious past but a promising future as well. And the Greeks themselves felt not only the honour of the choice, but also the impetus and the discipline it provided for the further modernisation of the country in areas such as construction, transportation, telecommunications, information technology, and tourism. They saw the Games as a catalyst for a better capital city and a unique opportunity for the country to show its best face to the world. Athens is a huge construction project now, but it will enormously improve in 2004: it will be an attractive and enjoyable area for spectators and citizens alike.
Where are we now?
We are now at a stage when after some initial glitches and delays, the organisation of the 2004 Games is now smoothly on track. About 90% of all the sports facilities are ready, and the rest will be in place well before the opening of the Games on August 13, 2004. I would like to mention specifically the fast pace of the construction of the Olympic Village, which in 2,500 houses, will accommodate 16,000 athletes and officials in a beautiful setting. "After what we have seen, there is every reason to believe that the Athens Olympics will be even more successful than Sydney", declared the Chairman of the IOC’s Coordinating Committee Denis Oswald after an inspection of the Olympic projects and seven Olympic test events last month. Deadlines are tight, however, and there is no room for complacency.
Let me mention that some delays in construction of venues were due to a uniquely Greek experience: the discovery of archaeological relics. Archaeologists had to document and protect the antiquities before construction could start or continue. Wherever you dig in Greece, you find ancient artefacts. Our aim is to build state-of-the-art projects, but at the same time, to preserve our rich heritage. All these facilities are also subject to environmental impact studies to ensure respect for the country’s ecology and historical heritage.
No one would deny, of course, that the financial obligations involved in the organisation and conduct of an Olympic meeting, with some 10,500 athletes competing, 21,000 journalists reporting, 60,000 volunteers helping, and 150,000 spectators expected to attend the Games daily, will inevitably require a huge expense.
The budget for organising the Games is estimated at 1.92 billion euros ($2.5b) and will be balanced. The expenses will be covered from various sources of income, such as television rights, sponsorships, ticket sales, etc. Another 4.6 billion euros ($6.25b) is budgeted for various infrastructure projects, which, while not directly connected with the Olympics, will contribute to the more efficient hosting of the Games and leave a lasting legacy to the capital. These include a new subway network, the new international airport that opened on March 28, 2001, new roads, a new suburban railway, and a new tram system, all designed to make sure that spectators and athletes can reach their destinations more efficiently. These major projects will reduce traffic congestion and pollution in Athens by at least 30 percent.
Security is a top priority for every Olympics and we are leaving nothing to chance in this area, especially after September 11. We have designed every security plan, which has been approved by the IOC and will cost nearly $800 million, at least twice the amount spent on security in Sydney and Salt Lake City. It involves the deployment of 58,000 police, army, and commando units, installation of more than 1,000 cameras and other hi-tech equipment, a border force to better police the sea and land borders, and increased international cooperation with experts from the US, Britain, Israel, Spain, Australia, France, and Germany, working together with Greek authorities. The dismantling of the "November 17" domestic terror group last year has been an outstanding success that will provide an increased sense of security and safety. A 255m euros ($350m) security contract was awarded last March to the San Diego-based SAIC company, leading an international consortium.
Greece, it should be remembered, has recently hosted several major international sports events, and receives some 12 million foreign tourists each year in complete safety.
In order to accommodate the extended Olympic family, 19,000 hotel rooms have been reserved. But the need to accommodate also the tens of thousands of spectators expected in Athens for the Games, by using new hotels, cruise ships, and private homes, is a challenge that we are determined to meet as well.
There are also some unique aspects of these Olympics. In ancient Greece, the Olympic Games were a festival of sports and the arts, and we want these Olympics to also be a celebration of sports and culture, with many cultural activities planned between now and 2004. The Cultural Olympiad provides for the restoration of archaeological sites in Athens, linking them into an archaeological park. It also includes art exhibitions, music and ancient drama productions in famous ancient theatres such as Delphi, Olympia, Epidaurus, and Athens, and many other cultural events that will cost an estimated 120 million euros.
In an effort to redefine the Olympics and restore some of the forgotten ideals which inspired the games of ancient Greece, we have proposed the revival of an ancient tradition, The Olympic Truce, when warring peoples laid down their arms and sought the paths of peace for the duration of the Games. While this idea might be considered by some to be highly romantic, an international centre was established in Greece, supported by the IOC, the EU, the UN, and personalities from around the world, to encourage dialogue and confidence between embattled rivals and their cooperation with international agencies. For the 2004 Olympic Games, the Olympic torch will travel from ancient Olympia to all five continents, and for the first time in history, will pass through the continents of Africa and South America.
I have given you only a brief outline of what we are trying to accomplish in 2004. We fully realise what is at stake with these Olympics and how great a challenge we have taken on. This is a major test of the ability and the image of Greece. We do not underestimate it, but we feel confident that we will rise to the occasion because no one in the world cares more about the success and welfare of the Olympic movement than the Greeks, who initiated the whole concept. The same applies to the Paralympic Games, which will commence 20 days later, with the participation of 4,000 athletes with disabilities from around the world. I invite you to enjoy this unique experience, either by coming to Greece in 2004, or by watching the Games on NBC.