Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis (left) received European Council President Charles Michel in his office in Athens, on Tuesday. [Dimitris Papamitsos/Prime Minister’s Office]
Greece is prepared to sit down for exploratory talks with Turkey on the delimitation of maritime zones, on the condition that it sees “tangible evidence” of de-escalation from Ankara, Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told a press conference during a visit to Athens by European Council President Charles Michel, on Tuesday.
Michel’s visit comes ahead of the upcoming European Council summit on September 24-25, where Turkey and developments in the Eastern Mediterranean will be topping the agenda. The European official will also be visiting Cyprus on Wednesday.
“Turkey has time before and after the summit to continue with the first encouraging step,” Mitsotakis said, referring to the departure over the weekend of the Turkish seismic survey vessel from the Greek continental shelf.
European support expressed for Greece and Cyprus over the ongoing dispute with Turkey over energy and maritime rights in the region, added the prime minister, is a tacit acknowledgment that the “European Union’s strategic interests are also at stake” in the region, adding that efforts at de-escalation must have “continuity and consistency.”
For his part, Michel said that the European Union must adopt a “strict” stance demonstrating its determination that its values and principles are upheld.
“We are also ready to open our arms and show that a positive agenda is possible if there is a common will for these principles to be respected,” Michel added.
The refugee crisis was also discussed at length between the two officials, particularly in light of recent events on the eastern Aegean island of Lesvos, where thousands of migrants were left homeless last week by the destruction of the notorious Moria camp.
The events on Lesvos, said Mitsotakis, demonstrate the complexity of the migration issue and tell us that it “needs to be dealt with at the European level.”
“The migration crisis is a challenge to Europe as a whole and not just to front-line countries,” agreed Michel, saying that a new migration pact being drawn up by the European Commission needs to focus on “stemming illegal immigration” and “harmonizing protocols” for redistribution, returns and deportations.
Michel also said that he would like to inspect the situation on Lesvos first-hand to assess how Brussels can help.
Mitsotakis indicated that he is seeking the construction of a new camp on the island that will be run jointly by Brussels and Athens.
“Moria belongs to the past. We need a new facility where the European and Greek flags will fly together,” he said.
“It is time for Europe’s support to pass from words into actions, to be expressed in tangible solidarity,” Mitsotakis said.