Europe needs its own defence policy but not at the expense of other areas, Tsipras says

The European Union needs its own security and defence policy but this must not come at the expense of other crucial policies, such as cohesion or education, Greece’s Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said in a press conference after the end of the European Council on Friday.\

“On security and defence issues an important step was taken. We agreed that we must proceed collectively, with greater coordination and by enhancing our common capabilities,” he announced.

“Europe must have its own defence policy in order to boost its role as an important global actor and in order to upgrade its global and regional role,” he added, calling the decision made on Friday “historic”. At the same time, he stressed that the money to be given to reinforce the common defence and security fund should not be taken from other crucial resources, especially funds for cohesion.

Tsipras highlighted the summit’s unswerving commitment to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the need for prompt action to protect the climate.

The success of Europe’s historic effort for its own defence and security policy would depend on a series of factors, Tsipras said.

“First and foremost whether we will collectively learn from the mistakes of the past and be able to contribute to promoting peace, stability and democracy in our region. Also whether the political tools that the EU has at its disposal in order to exert pressure on third countries will be accompanied by effective use of diplomatic tools for resolving differences and for boosting cooperation with third countries,” he said.

Thirdly, he added, its success would depend on whether the EU could enhance its security and defence capability in a balanced way, without depriving other crucial areas of policy, such as cohesion, education, research and innovation. Greece had raised this issue during the discussion and received “adequate commitments” on this score, Tsipras said.

Noting that the summit had discussed almost all issues concerning the EU, the Greek premier said that the common thread running through all of them was “the broader issue of European integration and the international role that the EU should have at a time of transition, both within its neighbourhood and in its transatlantic relations.

“The question that we keep coming back to is the extent to which we can cope with global, European and regional challenges, always through a realistic diplomatic approach and on the basis of itnernational law, protection of human rights and European values,” he said.

Cyprus is a primarily European issue

The prime minister commented on the Cyprus issue, ahead of a second round talks for a solution to be held in Switzerland on June 28, and stressed that it was primarily a European issue:

“Perhaps the most crucial wager for upgrading the EU’s regional and international role is today the prospect of a just and viable solution of the Cyprus issue and ensuring respect of good neighbourhood in the Aegean,” he said.

Despite efforts on the Greek side for dialogue and good neighbour relations, Tsipras added, Turkey continued a policy of provocations in the Aegean.

Tsipras said the EU could play a crucial role, in cooperation with the United Nations, in the talks currently underway for the Cyprus issue, which he said were a “test” of its ability to support Greece’s demands to end the outdated guarantees system and the departure of Turkish troops from the island.
He expressed hope that the talks in Switzerland will lay the foundations for a just and viable solution on Cyprus and said that Greece is making every effort to ensure the talks make progress on the chapter on security.

Replying to questions, Tsipras said he was “neither optimistic nor pessimistic” abou the outcome but a “realist”:

“Our view is that the Cyprus issue is not a Greek-Turkish difference but a primarily European problem,” Tsipras told reporters in response to questions. Any solution would involve the relations between Greece and Turkey and their agenda, while any outcome would have an impact on the EU, he pointed out. How could European leaders accept a member-state and a president that would be under threat from the presence of occupation troops and influenced by the possibility of intervention by a third country, he pointed out.

Turkey should stop provocations involving Aghia Sophia

The prime minister also commented on the Koran readings conducted within Aghia Sophia in Istanbul, urging Turkey to set aside such provocations and “comply with treaties and international law.”
Tsipras said the incident was an attempt to use Aghia Sophia in a way that did not accord with its history and its status as a monument, noting that the Greek government’s objections found support in UNESCO and from the U.S. State Department.

Replying to the ANA on whether the Eurogroup decision marked the end of the crisis, Tsipras said that “it was not the end of the road but the opening of a road for an exit from the crisis, as the markets are confirming.”

“Today we had the lowest price for a Greek 10-year bond since the crisis began in 2010,” he pointed out. He also said that it was positive that Greece had not been on the summit’s agenda.

“If it was, it would be a crisis issue…the fact that we had a good outcome at the Eurogroup and that there was no need for summit to intervene or for an emergency Eurozone summit is a positive development,” he said.