LISBON -- Portugal's priorities as president of the Council of the European Union focus on an economic recovery related to climate actions and digital transition, Prime Minister Antonio Costa said during a joint press conference in Lisbon with visiting Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis on Friday.
With Greece, specifically, Portugal hopes during its presidency (January 1 to June 30) to bolster economic relations, Costa said, referring to a memorandum of collaboration signed between the two countries recently. "We also discussed our presidency priorities at the EU, of accelerating EU economic recovery, strengthening the social sector, and securing European independence on a global scale," Costa underlined.
Responding to questions, the Greek prime minister said that Greece will start exploratory talks with Turkey, once a date is set, on the basis of European Council guidelines, "which are to start where we stopped in March 2016, and to achieve progerss on the issue of delimiting the maritime zones in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean."
However, Greece has not yet received any invitation to work towards a date for the talks, Mitsotakis said, reiterating that "the one and only issue that we are facing is the delimitation of maritime zones in the Aegean."
But as Mitsotakis also noted, "I count as a positive point that Turkey is expressing a will to have the process begin." An established date "will be a positive first step. The European Council has stressed that this policy requires consistence and continuity," he said, and referred to the progress report expected in March by Josep Borrell, the EU's head of foreign relations.
Portugal's prime minister also added that both his country and the EU have clearly stated their fulls solidarity with Greece and Cyprus and have demanded respect for their territorial integrity, as they are members of the EU. "Doubts cast on any EU member state's territorial integrity means the territorial integrity of the entire EU is cast in doubt," he pointed out.
"We are all NATO allies," he said, "and Turkey is one of the most important neighbors of the EU. We have very powerful economic and social ties, and there is a large Turkish community in the EU." He said his country's presidency would work towards a normalization of relations, and have "a new agenda, a new relationship with Turkey," at the European Council meeting in March, "without naturally forgetting Greece's and Cyprus' rights."
In questions relating to the EU Recovery Fund, PM Mitsotakis noted the urgency of disbursing the funds to the countries. Greece is set to receive 32 billion euros and there can be no delay. "The first quarter of 2021 will be tougher than our assessments because of the new pandemic waves in several countries," he said. Until more vaccinations are carried out, restrictions on business activities will remain, he noted. In Greece, the experts committee will provide recommendations based on the latest virological data, he explained.
The Greek premier also praised Portugal's contributions in the EU migration issue, and extended an invitation to PM Costa to attend events for the 200th anniversary of the breakout of the Greek Revolution for Independence in 1821.
He also made special mention of Colonel Antonio Figueira d' Almeida, "the first Portuguese Greek," as he called him, who helped the Greek revolutionaries by fighting beside them. His namesake and grandson, a century later, would die fighting for the independence of Macedonia, he said.
NATO members Greece and Turkey are at odds over sea boundaries and mineral rights in the Aegean Sea and eastern Mediterranean. the dispute triggered a tense standoff last year when a Turkish research vessel was used to survey waters where Greece claims jurisdiction.
Turkey says an extension of Greece's territorial waters eastward would be considered an act of war, arguing that Greek islands would effectively block its access to the Aegean.
Talks between the two countries to try to resolve the dispute broke down four years ago. Under pressure from western allies, the two sides say they are willing to restart that dialogue.
Separately Monday, Greek government said that it was planning to fast-track legislation for parliamentary approval of a program to acquire 18 French-made Rafale fighter jets — 12 already in service in the French military and six new aircraft.
Spokesman Tarantilis said debate on the program would also start in parliament this week with deliveries of the aircraft expected to begin in the summer. Greece's annual spending on defense is being hiked by more than a third in 2021 to 5.4 billion euros ($6.6 billion) compared to last year, as the country attempts to keep pace with Turkey following years of cutbacks during a major financial crisis.