Rhodes, September 8, 2016/Independent Balkan News Agency
By Spiros Sideris
The need for collective and coordinated action and the undertaking of initiatives for the public benefit, highlighted Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias during his opening speech at the Conference on Stability and Security that is taking place today and tomorrow in Rhodes with the participation of foreign ministers and senior officials from European and Arab states.
The need for collective and coordinated action, taking initiatives for the public benefit, said Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias during his opening speech at the Conference on Stability and Security taking place today and tomorrow in Rhodes with the participation of foreign ministers and senior officials European and Arab states.
Thank you for accepting the invitation we extended to convene in Rhodes and discuss the issues of the Eastern Mediterranean, a region of war and peace, cooperation and confrontation, powerful dividing lines but also friendly ties.
Middle Eastern countries that are either in or contiguous to the Mediterranean Basin are taking part in our meeting. They are the heart of the Arab world. The Mediterranean and the Arab world: theirs is a centuries-long marriage. So, we are joined by SE European EU member-states and SE European EU candidates. Last but not least, the President of the EU Foreign Affairs Council, our dear Miroslav, is in attendance.
In essence, this is the very first meeting of SE European states and their Arab peers. The Balkans and the Eastern Mediterranean share a geographic continuum where multiple problems, opportunities and potential ‘intersect’: refugees, trade, transport, economic migrants. There is so much connecting us and there is ample scope for it all to turn into much more and become ever so positive.
The stability of each state in the region has direct consequences on us all. The security of each and every one of us is part and parcel of the security of the rest. We live in a world of versatile interactions and interdependencies, a world where even a chance event can have multiple repercussions on our people.
Interconnection and interdependence are cornerstones in the quest for common positions and joint solutions to problems in the region. They are, moreover, the pillars of initiatives aimed at taking action to serve our shared interests and benefit all.
In our region, powers compete whilst having an agenda of their own. On certain occasions their own interests might coincide with ours, on others maybe not. But what matters is to not have a fixed stance vis-à-vis them. It is rather the other way around: let us act on the premise of our shared interests as a starting point and use it as a touchstone to assess the stance of others.
The foundation of cooperation lies in the very good relations there are between Greece and the Arab world. These are historical relations, cultural, economic ones. Such relations of trust and confidence we do wish to see permeate all of SE Europe.
What is, in my opinion, the foremost good for our region? It is peace. We must do all that is humanely possible to have peace in the region. Still, peace requires stability. Stability depends greatly on the war against terror. Whoever wants peace ought to be fighting terror, stand up for what is humane, social, to the benefit of people in the region, and promote international cooperation.
Peace means putting an end to the chaotic situation in Libya. The toppling of regimes in the absence of meaningful and equitable solutions in the aftermath has proven anything but wise. We ought to help the Libyan government of national accord solidify power and, for that to happen, including everyone who is combating chaos and terror is a necessary precondition.
Peace means an end to war in Syria but also in Iraq. It means agreeing on a peace treaty that lets locals go home to build on a promising future of expectations and hope for both themselves and their offspring. It signifies a wide, rational reconstruction program for those countries.
It means achieving stability in unstable areas and a peaceful, long-term solution to the Kurdish issue.
Peace means acknowledging the great work Jordan and Lebanon are doing in dealing with the impact war in the region has had on major population groups. It means offering them economic support, especially coming from the EU. The overall aim is not to merely provide for major refugee groups but to, moreover, put new economic infrastructure in place and create agricultural, productive and industrial areas and zones to combat unemployment for the sake of those populations.
The world needs to lean over these two countries given the way they tackled refugee flows and prop them up as they are paying for the choices of others. The latter, for their part, must take responsibility for what they did and help these two states do their work.
Environmental protection issues go hand in hand with peace. Environmental security, for that matter, as the Mediterranean is a largely enclosed sea and its resilience to all sorts of environmental pressure is not infinite. We ought to be taking measures together, to proceed with commonly-agreed rules and provisions so that there may be an end to the uncontrollable degradation of our Sea by public and private entities. Let us contribute to the preservation of our region’s exceptional climate and ensure the best possible conditions for the environment-friendly survival of all species, be they marine or not.
I suggest we develop common actions, conduct research and come up with green technologies to protect the marine environment but also improve energy generation and the transportation of conventional energy.
The rest of the N. African countries and Egypt, in particular, are critical to stability and security in the region. The role of countries in the Gulf is equally important. In this day and age stability is a prerequisite for consolidating human rights and catering to the needs of the young.
NE Africa, the Balkans, the Middle East: they are a single geostrategic entirety, a special place, the E. Mediterranean and its region. This is the place where great civilizations and the biggest religions in our world today where actually born, the place which, China apart, fostered and developed, far beyond any other, the sciences, arts and letters, trade and production, for whole millennia on end.
EUMSS, the Maritime Security Strategy of the EU, drafted during the Greek Presidency in June 2014 and enforced through the action plan the Italian Presidency worked out in December 2015, is interwoven with the notion of safety in the Mediterranean and it counts on UNCLOS.
Safety of transportation is a special issue for the wider region, coupled with developing a modern transport network. Just how real this issue is becomes indeed apparent through existing requirements for maritime security. 40% of the world’s energy reserves get shipped through the Mediterranean, its major maritime hubs and communication channels with routes comprising the Suez, Hormuz, and Aden, all the way to Gibraltar. Greece and Turkey in NATO’s SE flank and Cyprus as the southeastern-most country of the EU are both confines and links to the two sub-systems, SE Europe and the Middle East. This is a region that can provide energy to and diversify natural gas supply for Europe.
This place has provided ample evidence to the fact that it is through synergies between and among the most versatile of cultures and religions we may aim for greatness. Islam is not the enemy of the Christian faith nor is Christianity the foe of Islam. Fanaticism is the enemy, when it comes to any religion whatsoever, even the fanaticism of certain atheists. All of us ought to further sustain the culture of coexistence between different religions and encourage interfaith dialogue. Which is why, if you so wish, you can help prepare for the next, the second, international conference on religious and cultural pluralism and peaceful coexistence in the Middle East, which is bound to pick up from where the first such International Conference left off in Athens, in October 2015.
I act from conviction, thinking of religions and denominations in the region as profoundly humanistic, replete with grand ideas and values, the vehicle of principles. They could contribute to solving social problems and can be a source of inspiration for a better future, not today’s disaster.
Which is why I am in favour of and thus recommend that, above and beyond alliances and partnerships each may have within this region, we come up with joint projects, actions, perspectives that shall have a positive impact on us all.
Today, the Balkan countries are paying, through the refugee crisis, the toll for a war they are not parties to. We neither started this war, nor did we decide or wage it.
Refugees and economic migrants, this is one of the most critical issues in 21st century history. Millions of people are leaving their homes in search of better living conditions, many of them escaping to save their lives.
The biggest refugee populations are now in Turkey, which is carrying a huge burden. The same goes for Lebanon and Jordan. It is imperative we all pitch in to collectively support those two countries in receiving economic aid through the UN and EU as well as create new economic infrastructure and industrial areas.
I suggest we put together a joint research and action team for the refugee crisis, to coordinate requests and practices in the region, so that we become the subject and not the object of international migration and refugee policies.
Migrants and refugees have needs that can only be covered through growth.
I suggest we improve coordination between our authorities handling those matters, with a view to having cross-border programs proposed, approved and implemented. There can be ad hoc regional and wider, possibly global, cooperation along those lines. Let us come up with joint proposals, wherever possible, and submit them to the EU and the UN, especially concerning places where there are humanitarian crises unfolding.
I suggest those of us who are EU members be given the opportunity to promote joint action and plans by means of the European Union. Let us help out and steer the Union towards actions and options that are in line with the spirit of our discussions and serve our shared objectives.
Our region is rich in raw materials, artisanal small enterprises, human resources. We must find a way to improve the use of existing resources, to attract and appeal to more.
I suggest we enhance cooperation and broaden its scope starting with universities and research centers all the way to finding new methods and ways to organize production.
Such a strategic choice may be pursued by means of common regional and cross-border programs, which can be designed, adopted and implemented with the help of the EU and other international organizations. We could and should restore economic and social networks between the two areas: energy grids and networks, oil, gas and transport. What is needed is major, fixed infrastructure to interconnect both sides in our region.
Our region, as we are all aware of, is also witnessing the activity of other types of networks which often utilise, in a rather singular manner, new scope the global economy and information systems can offer. They are networks of smugglers and traffickers of terrorists, weapons and other explosives, people and organs, drugs and antiquities. Primarily, terror, but then again all forms of organized crime call for tough responses.
I suggest our intelligence services work together, exchange information and other resources and that also our police forces undertake joint action and activities. We will have to figure out a better way for our countries to improve coordination to that end.
Terrorism, in particular, is the result of multiple socio-political problems in our region. There are great peoples that do not have a state of their own. I am actually referring, above all, to Palestine and the need to establish two states living together in peace and security, respectful of human dignity and diversity, that will be Israel and Palestine.
Terrorism in our region has been associated with massive violence and extremist ideas. Actually now, in the globalization era, it found ways to spread across continents. The most worrisome fact is that even little children are involved. We are running the risk of an entire lost generation, swamped with lies, hatred, at an impasse.
I suggest we find ways for our youth in the entire region to work together peacefully, to foster ties of friendship and cooperation, even more so in the field of culture, sports and education. Let us look for such forms of regional cooperation in our two-day discussion and establish them with a long-term vision in mind.
In addition, we will need to develop joint capacities to communicate the message of cooperation and peace, to work on alternative actions to juxtapose hatred and violence.
We need to strike at the root of whatever it is that breeds religious, racial, nationalistic hatred and violence, to forthwith contribute towards achieving a balanced socio-economic growth.
Warfare in the Middle East heightened the need to protect all cultural and religious communities within the region.
Ours is a region where often multicultural and/or multi-religious communities coexisted as an integral part of our reality, even more so in the Middle East. And no doubt those communities would have made it to this day had there been no interventions and interference by countries that are now admonishing various states in the region with the finger wave. Because even in those cases where there had been no institutions similar to, or as fully-fledged as, those in the democratic West communities were extroverted and respectful of diversity. And that should not be left to perish. Therefore, should you wish to, I urge you to join the international Observatory, established in the aftermath of the conference in Athens, as it works on those matters. It has already done a lot of work in view of the next conference, which is due in the autumn of 2017 and which you are all invited to.
We subscribe fundamentally to a core idea suggesting that our region should not be seen solely through the lens of the Middle East problem but through its prospects and dynamics.
Proof of such dynamics may be found in what this region contributed to in its significant capacity as cradle of civilizations, birthplace of the great monotheistic religions and home of democracy.
Problems in this region cannot be solved from the outside. Such attempts have always failed. Yet, policies the ownership of which belonged to the people themselves and which were compatible with institutions in our respective countries were always crowned with success. Our own people and institutions should be the ones to encourage cooperation, dialogue, teamwork. They must be the ones making choices. It is their choices that others, third parties, could help materialize and promote, providing material and spiritual support therein. It cannot be the other way around.
This is why we object to interference in the internal affairs of states, for this often leads to tension, and want to promote a cooperative culture on all levels. Should this be not immediately feasible, let us establish cooperation networks and promptly proceed with confidence-building measures on multiple fields and sectors.
Our actions and stronger cooperation count on international law, the UN, the EU, Arab countries working together, the institutions of this partnership. Our driving force is the actual collective vision we can help create together for a stable and secure Eastern Mediterranean, a region of synergies and peace.
This is the reason why I suggest that our Conference becomes a permanent institution for dialogue, peace and security in the region.