Athens.- French President Nicolas Sarkozy arrived for an official visit to Athens on Friday, where he referred to a “new Greece-France alliance” in a head-of-state address to Parliament as well as to a series of issues of increased importance for Greek leadership.
A beaming Sarkozy, among others, first referred to his Thessaloniki-born maternal grandfather, telling a packed Parliament chamber that “my grandfather, who lived in Thessaloniki, would never have imaged that his grandson would come back to his homeland as the president of France.”
The French president was greeted at the main entrance of Parliament by Parliament President Dimitris Sioufas, while four out of five Parliament-represented political leaders, along with past prime ministers, presidents and several ambassadors were also on hand for Sarkozyʼs address.
In hinting at the main cornerstones of the soon-to-begin French EU presidency, the high-profile French leader cited the problem of illegal immigration in the Union, as well as Paris’ eyebrow-raising proposal for the establishment of a Mediterranean Union.
Additionally, he reiterated his views on Europe-Turkey relations, repeating that France favors a “special relationship” with Ankara that is short of full EU accession.
Ahead of his visit to Beirut, Sarkozy expressed his government’s full support for Lebanon’s stability, while again calling for a viable two-state solution in the Mideast.
Turning to a sensitive issue for Greece, the president of France said the wall separating Nicosia “must fall”, in reference to a fair and viable solution for Cyprus.
Sarkozy also didn’t mince his words in supporting Athens’ position vis-a-vis the nagging “name dispute” with the landlocked Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), saying France supports ally Greece and won’t change its position.
“I want you to know that we backed Greece, and that we will not change our position – France and Greece want FYROM to approach NATO and the EU in due course. I also want to say that the name issue must be resolved before any accession – the government in Skopje and Greece should find, within the UN auspices, a compromise over the name,” Sarkozy said amid applause by Greeceʼs MPs.
The French leader arrived in Athens for talks with the state and political leadership of Greece, including President of the Republic Karolos Papoulias and Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis.
He concluded his address by saying that Greece and France, “together will become stronger. And I want you to understand that for me, this Parliament, which expresses so much for the French people, the word ʽVive la Grece, vive la Franceʼ? is a major moment in my political life”.
Sarkozy, who was greeted by Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis at the Eleftherios Venizelos International Airport of Athens, laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier shortly after his arrival, before delivering an address in Parliament.
After his Parliament address, Sarkozy was awarded the legislatureʼs Gold Medallion.
Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and President Nicolas Sarkozy signed a joint declaration for cooperation in defence and security, following their wide-ranging talks at the premier’s Maximos Mansion office in Athens.
The talks came after Sarkozy’s nationally-television address in Greece’s Parliament hours earlier, in the presence of practically all the east Mediterranean country’s political leadership.
Karamanlis referred to the “powerful and historic” ties between the two EU and NATO partners, calling Sarkozy a “personal friend and a compatriot from Thessaloniki”.
“Greece and France share a common vision for Europe, and we attribute particular significance to European defence and security policy,” Karamanlis said.
On his part, the French president, who was enthusiastically received in the Greek capital, stressed that he agreed with everything in his talks with Karamanlis, including the creation of a European coast guard force, calling the prospect of a Greek-French naval task force to better guard the Union’s maritime borders a “good idea”.
Regarding the timely issue of rising cost of living in Europe, Sarkozy said the European Council must immediately take up the issue, reminding of his proposal for reduced VAT rates and an Austrian proposal for higher capital taxes on profit margins.
The Greek premier also said Athens was ready to support the French presidency in the defence and security sector, while referring to one of the priorities of the French presidency, namely, illegal immigration.
He also reiterated Greece’s proposal for the creation of a European coast guard force. Additionally, Karamanlis again expressed support for Paris’ Mediterranean Union initiative, saying all potential members in such a bloc would benefit from new forms of cooperation.
In terms of the same issue, Sarkozy emphatically said that Turkey would not be excluded from such a Med Union, while repeating that the neighbouring country’s European prospects are not linked with the creation of the Med Union.
In again touching on the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) — which re-emerged on Europe’s agenda in early April after Skopje’s failure to find a mutually acceptable solution with Greece regarding the “name issue” derailed its NATO bid — Sarkozy expressed concerns over the way last Sunday’s election was held in the neighbouring country.
His comments regarding FYROM were later echoed by Karamanlis, who for the first time also publicly expressed concerns over the election process in the landlocked one-time Yugoslav republic on Greece’s northern border.
More tellingly, Karamanlis repeated that “no solution to the name issue” means that Greece will maintain the same stance, “where necessary”.
The Karamanlis-Sarkozy declaration came after other agreements were signed by the two countries’ defence and foreign ministers as well, with the latter expanding already close cultural ties.
Other issues discussed involved defence cooperation and armaments, with Karamanlis reiterating that talks will continue in this sector.
LETTER FROM PAPANDREOU
Main opposition PASOK leader and Socialist International (SI) President George Papandreou conveyed a letter to President Nicolas Sarkozy on Friday, in which he expresses his concerns over current developments in western Balkans.
Papandreou addressed his letter to the French president in view of France’s assumption, next month, of the six-month European Union rotating presidency.
The Greek political leader said, in his letter, that whatever solutions “are to be given to the region’s problems they should not reproduce new tensions and nationalistic practices.”
Papandreou also notes in his letter that the “unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo and its recognition by some EU member-states in violation of the principles of International Law and UN Security Council’s resolutions and without a previous decision by the EU’s 27 member-states, does not contribute to the region’s stability.”
Referring to the “name issue” of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Papandreou notes France’s “support to UN principles and decisions and the European political acquis,” underlining, however, that “this constitutes a basic responsibility and obligation on the part of France, as well as the expression of solidarity towards Greece.
Regarding Turkey’s EU course, the main opposition leader notes that the EU “must stay firm and consistent with its decisions and strategy which have been collectively decided upon while, in parallel, it should not allow the alteration of its decisions by Turkey, which must abide by all its commitments undertaken vis-à-vis the EU and its member-states.”
The stance in favour of Turkey’s EU course “does not annul the neighbouring country’s great responsibilities and obligations regarding the Cyprus issue,” Papandreou also notes in his letter, before adding that “no expediency or interest can justify the ongoing occupation of Cyprus’ territories by Turkish forces and the partition of an EU member-state.”