Samaras says democratic values key to NATO membership as Greece also eyes EU expansion

In a message that appeared to be directed at the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and its potential renewed bid to join NATO when the organization holds its next summit in September, Prime Minister Antonis Samaras warned on Friday that any country wishing to become part of the alliance would have to prove it is willing to uphold “democratic values.”

Samaras made the comments after meeting NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Athens, a day after European Union defense ministers held an informal meeting in the Greek capital.

“Any new candidacy is evaluated. There are the pre-accession stages and each country must meet the criteria set by the alliance, which is a community of democratic values,” said Samaras.

His comments came a day after Foreign Minister Evangelos Venizelos made a similar comment in Skopje, where he met with FYROM officials. Venizelos suggested that there is more than FYROM’s name dispute with Greece that is preventing it from joining international institutions such as NATO.

Like Venizelos, Samaras focused on the issue of good-neighborly relations, adding that respect for human rights and freedom of expression should also be upheld.

Sources said that the possibility of a NATO enlargement in September were discussed during the meeting with Rasmussen. Samaras is believed to have expressed concerns about including FYROM based on democratic criteria rather than the ongoing name dispute.

During the talks, Samaras also asked for cooperation with Israel to become part of NATO’s agenda.

“As the holder of the presidency of the European Union, Greece is especially well placed to make sure that the countries of Europe do develop their capabilities and their strength. This would benefit NATO, the EU and the world,” said Rasmussen, who condemned the violence in Ukraine.

“We are in the cradle of democracy and democracy is the foundation of NATO. Democracy is in danger in the wider neighborhood. Greece has an active participation in the alliance,” he added.

Venizelos also completed on Friday his tour of the Western Balkans with a visit to Albania, where he met with Prime Minister Edi Rama. Venizelos said that it was a “basic priority” for Greece to ensure that Albania is given candidate status by the European Union before Greece’s presidency of the 28-nation bloc ends in June.

The Greek foreign minister also intends to review the “Thessaloniki Agenda” that Greece promoted when it last held the EU presidency in 2003. This foresees the induction of all Western Balkan states in the Union. Venizelos hopes to host a meeting between EU foreign ministers and diplomats from Southeastern Europe in Thessaloniki in April.