NATO’s mission in the Aegean has proven particularly effective as it has decisively contributed to saving lives and the significant reduction of migrant and refugee flows from Turkey to the Greek islands, says Britain’s Defense Secretary Michael Fallon in an interview with Kathimerini.
Fallon met with his Greek counterpart, Panos Kammenos, Friday in Athens and thanked him for Greece’s support to the British Royal Navy and NATO operations in general. The two also discussed preparations ahead of the NATO summit to be held in July in Warsaw, as Greece and Britain are at the top of the list in terms of our contribution to the alliance.
On Saturday, Fallon will be in Crete to attend the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Crete and pay tribute to the fallen.
Fallon has served as deputy chairman of the Conservative Party and as a student he was at the forefront of the “European Movement” in favor of Britain joining the then EEC in 1975.
He also warns about the negative consequences of a possible Brexit for both Britain and Europe.
How do you assess the results of the NATO mission in the Aegean?
The purpose of my visit is to thank the Greek government for the support it has provided mainly through the base of Souda in Crete to the British naval presence contributing to the NATO mission in the Mediterranean. This mission has reduced refugee pressures across Europe. It has helped to rescue people and limit the loss of lives. Migrant flows have been reduced by 90 percent. Today we see 50 people arriving per day, as opposed to hundreds or even thousands in the past. It would be very difficult for the mission to exist without the use of facilities – ports and airports – provided by Greece, which are also extremely helpful for the military exercises we perform in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Are you satisfied with your cooperation with Turkey?
Returning people is a very difficult and complex issue. We do not want only Syrians to return, but all nationalities. There are specific procedures concerning immigration to Western Europe and those must be respected. Greece and Turkey are in the difficult position of being transit countries. We see people not only from Syria but also from Afghanistan and Pakistan, going to Turkey and Greece. We work with both countries to ensure that lives are not lost unnecessarily and those who should not attempt entering Greece are either obstructed or sent back.
After your meeting with Greek Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, you will visit Crete on Saturday.
Yes, I will travel to Crete to honor those who fell in the resistance. Particularly the residents of the island and the Greek soldiers who fought alongside British soldiers and lost their lives in the Battle of Crete, 75 years ago. This battle was the beginning of the defense cooperation between Greece and Britain, which got deeper over time.
How do you assess the prospects of a solution in Cyprus and is Britain prepared to contribute by showing flexibility about guarantees?
We are always ready to help with talks in whatever way we can. I have met several times with [Cyprus President Nicos] Anastasiades to investigate ways we could help with the talks. There have been several negotiations in the past, but what is different this time is that the risks of not reaching an agreement are far greater than any risk there may be in a potential agreement. There are risks for both sides, and a solution requires courage from both sides. I am, however, more optimistic this time than any other time in the past. Everyone understands the instability in the Eastern Mediterranean and the need for Greek and Turkish Cypriots to come closer.
What would be the cost of Britain’s exit from the EU?
Brexit would be bad news for Britain because it would make us the largest single market in the world, would increase the cost of our exports, and would most probably increase the prices of goods in Britain. At the same time, it would be a very bad development for Europe. It would be the first time that a country leaves the European Union, which would leave it smaller and weaker than it is today, at a time of increased threats, not only from the pressures of the refugee issue, but also from a very aggressive Russia.
Talking of exits, how do you perceive the Greek crisis and the country’s prospects of getting back on its feet?
Greece has avoided Grexit, partly because of the Greek people’s sacrifice, but also because of the rest of Europe’s collective cooperation which was aimed at preventing Greece’s exit from the Union. Europe’s power lies with its collectiveness and here I come back to your previous question, to highlight that the EU will suffer if a very large country like Britain left it. Britain is not part of the eurozone, but supports Greece’s efforts to stay within the euro. We do not use the euro, but it is absolutely clear that we do not want to see the single currency collapsing.