ATHENS – The Prespes Agreement signed by Athens and Skopje was a “historic opportunity” for a solution to the name dispute that was “forward-looking” and promoted the security and development of the Balkans and Europe, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and his German counterpart Heiko Maas agreed during their meeting in Athens on Thursday.
Receiving Maas at the foreign ministry, during a visit that wrapped up the German minister’s tour of southeastern Europe, Kotzias noted that the Prespes Agreement had helped Greece “get out of a prison that some hope we will re-enter”. He emphasised Greece’s responsibility for the Balkan region as well as its contribution to reducing tensions through various initiatives launched by Greek diplomacy, adding that Greek foreign policy was mainly focused in Europe, the Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean.
Maas noted the major contribution Kotzias’ had made to the signature of the agreement, saying his attitude was responsible and contributed to the security of both the region and Europe.
“It is a historic opportunity and, I have to say, that without [Kotzias’] personal commitment and the persistence and patience shown by both sides we would never have gotten there; this is something that may not please everyone but is, nevertheless, a sign of responsible policy-making,” he said.
He repeated his ardent wish that the agreement will finally be implemented, contributing to the reconciliation of the two peoples and to the stability of the region.
The Greek foreign minister expressed his conviction that the agreement will be supported by voters in the upcoming referendum in FYROM and that this will have the required turnout, estimating that the process of changing the neighbouring country’s constitution will be completed by mid-January. Following this, the agreement would be submitted to the Greek parliament for ratification, along with the ratification of NATO’s decision to grant FYROM membership, he added.
He was also confident that the agreement will be supported in the Greek Parliament, expressing hope that both PASOK and main opposition New Democracy will vote in favour and not pander to the conservative elements in their “domestic” audiences.
German war reparations, refugee crisis
Replying to questions on the issue of German war reparations, Kotzias was careful to separate this issue from that of the forced occupation loan extracted from by Nazi Germany during World War II. Commenting on a report on war reparations being prepared by Parliament, he noted that “every government must respect its parliament” and that “everything that is just in history remains…and needs its own way, time and hour.”
He also expressed Athens’ opposition to any change in the borders between Kosovo and Serbia: “We don’t want actions that could lead to a negative domino. On the other hand, we hope the two states will solve their problems,” he said.
Maas replied to questions on the refugee crisis and expressed agreement with the idea of “flexible solidarity”.
“I think we need some kind of a solution…we cannot wait for more weeks for the Mediterranean,” he said, suggesting that each country could take on a share of the burden either by contributing financially, or by hosting refugees or by protecting the external borders.