On Tuesday, 5 March 2019, the Minister of National Defence Evangelos Apostolakis received his German counterpart, Ursula von der Leyen, who is visiting Greece, in an official ceremony, at Papagou Camp. Before visiting the Ministry of National Defence, the Minister of Defence of Germany laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in Syntagma Square.
During the bilateral meetings, the current security environment was analysed. Issues of mutual interest were also discussed, pertaining to the further reinforcement of defence cooperation, in a bilateral and Euro-Atlantic level.
The Minister of National Defence:
● Pointed out the contribution of the German Armed Forces to the allied activity of intercepting refugee flows in the Aegean, stressing that the continuation of the said NATO operation would be advisable.
● He referred to the Prespes Agreement and its perspective for enhancing stability in the wider region, gradually integrating the Western Balkans into the Euro-Atlantic framework.
● He emphasised the aggressive stance of the Turkish Armed Forces in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, which is dealt with determination and composure by the Hellenic Armed Forces. A special mention was made of the promoted procedure for Confidence Building Measures activation between Greece and Turkey, in the context of preventing any tension.
● He stressed the Hellenic Armed Forces’ contribution to the promotion and implementation of broad military cooperations with Balkan states, states of North Africa and the Middle East, in order to achieve an understanding, regarding the effective management of common security challenges.
● He highlighted the requirement of implementing European defence initiatives, like the EU Permanent Structure Cooperation (PESCO), a procedure which will further enhance the European defence identity.
The address of the Minister of National Defence is as follows:
“I am very happy to welcome the Minister of Defence of Germany, Doctor Ursula von der Leyen to Athens today.
With my fellow Minister we share feelings of profound esteem and friendship.
I am glad that this visit occurs during such a critical period of international and regional developments, where our defence cooperation contributes constructively to stability and security.
Our countries share tight bonds on a bilateral level and through NATO and EU. So far, we have developed an excellent defence cooperation based on friendship and mutual respect.
So, this visit is an excellent opportunity for sharing views, thoughts and concerns and coordinate our future actions as stability providers.
We agreed that our geopolitical environment is of great strategic importance, dominated by a wide spectrum of challenges and risks. I pointed out, that in this environment, Greece, implementing Defence Diplomacy, plays a key role in promoting synergies, and acts as a conduit among countries in the Balkans, the East Med and the Gulf.
I highlighted that we have to cope with a difficult neighbour. Greece will continue its efforts to minimise the tension. My meeting with Minister Akar, following Prime Minister’s Tsipras visit in Ankara, is a proof of our will to de-escalate the tense atmosphere and restart a positive agenda, to build a relationship based on mutual respect and adherence to international law.
I also emphasised that Greece has always been supportive of the integration of the Western Balkans Countries into the Euro-Atlantic organisations. In this respect, the Prespes Agreement constitutes an example of resolution of a long standing dispute in the region by peaceful means. According to the provisions of the Agreement, Greece will support the transformation of North Macedonia’s Armed Forces, during the process of the accession of the country in NATO.
Regarding the migrant and refugee issue, that concerns both our countries, I thank publicly Doctor Ursula von der Leyen for her contribution to face this major issue. Germany has undertaken the responsibility to provide not only the material assets, but the tactical command as well. We consider it of paramount importance to have ships of our allies in the Aegean. Thanks to this, the flows of migrants and refugees from the Turkish coasts have been reduced.
Finally, we discussed our engagement on EU’s defence initiatives and especially within the framework of PESCO, as it is an important step towards closer cooperation in security and defence across the EU and its Member States. I am sure that our interaction and cooperation through PESCO projects will be beneficial for our countries and the EU.
Allow me to conclude by saying: Ursula, Thank you for being a staunch supporter of promoting our bilateral defence relations. Welcome to Greece, welcome to the Ministry of National Defence.
We welcome you as a friend, partner and ally.