In an exclusive interview with Kathimerini, Jean-Yves Le Drian sent a strong French message of support to Greece and Cyprus. France’s foreign minister responded to our written questions on the occasion of his visits to Athens and Nicosia on Thursday and Friday respectively.
Asked to comment on recent statements by Turkish officials who called into question the 1923 Peace Treaty of Lausanne, which defined modern Turkey’s borders, the leading French diplomat reassured both Greeks and Cypriots that France is “vigilant and in solidarity” with its two European partners. He argued that any discussion of Turkey’s full accession to the EU is an “illusion” under the present circumstances, although he outlined the need for a special relationship between the two sides.
Regarding the recent tentative agreement between Athens and Skopje on a name for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Le Drian expressed his strong support along with hope that it will be approved by the citizens of FYROM in the country’s September 30 referendum. Highlighting the dangers posed by the resurgence of nationalism in Europe, he called for a bold reform of the EU, including a possible “Europe of concentric circles” if this is necessary in order to surpass the current differences.
Greece has just emerged from troika stewardship, but its debt remains huge and a French proposal for linking its repayment to gross domestic product was rejected. Do you believe that additional measures will be needed?
Greece’s exit from the third financial assistance program is a historic development. It is a recognition of the efforts of the Greek people, the fruit of the government’s stability on the issue of reform implementation and proof that European solidarity works. Last June’s Eurogroup adopted the necessary measures for the Greek debt, Greece has created a safety cushion and we have foreseen a meeting in 2032 to assess the situation. The Greek economy now needs to continue on the path to growth and to take advantage of all the marvellous opportunities that Greece has. Rest assured that France will continue to be on its side.
Are you concerned by the increasing tension in the Aegean and Ankara’s questioning of the validity of the Lausanne Treaty?
Turkey is an important interlocutor and partner for France, Greece, Cyprus and Europe. It is for this reason that the president of the French Republic more than a year ago initiated a close dialogue with President [Recep Tayyip] Erdogan, which allows us with all honesty to address any issues where there is a difference of opinion with Ankara. It is in precisely this context that we have already spoken with our Turkish counterparts about issues that concern us with regard to tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean. I would like to assure our Greek and Cypriot partners at this point of our vigilance and solidarity.
What is France’s reaction to Turkish violations of Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone?
France has always supported Cyprus’s sovereign right to explore and develop its natural resources, in accordance with European and international law. We have said this clearly to the Turkish authorities. Moreover, this position was expressed in no uncertain terms at the European Council of March 22.
Turkey appears to have turned its back on its European prospects in recent years. Do you believe that the goal of full accession is still relevant or should the EU seek some form of special relationship with Turkey?
For several years now, the Turkish government has made choices that have put it at a distance from the EU and its values. Under these circumstances, it would be illusionary to believe that we can proceed with Turkish accession to the EU. The French president has said this to Mr Erdogan and has repeated it on several occasions. In any case, we, the EU and Turkey, have a duty to cooperate in areas of shared interest: on an economic level – which is why we need Turkey to be prosperous and stable – in the area of immigration and in the fight against terrorism. Lastly, on the regional issues, we need to continue the dialogue, without fail, and particularly with regard to the situation in Syria, where Turkey is an undeniable factor.
What do you expect from the September 30 name deal referendum in FYROM? What kind of skepticism exists within the French government toward the EU’s expansion toward the Western Balkans?
The agreement signed on June 17 is of a historic nature because it concerns the resolution of a 27-year-old bilateral disagreement. We sincerely hope to see this agreement go through and this is why a positive outcome in the September 30 referendum is so important. It will then come down to Greece to ratify the agreement. This agreement will benefit both countries and will bolster stability in the Balkan region but also in Europe more generally. The Atlantic Alliance has already decided to invite the government in Skopje to commence talks aimed at the country’s induction to NATO. The Athens-Skopje agreement also has a significant contribution to the good-neighborly relations that are also a key precondition for a European overture. The European prospects of the Western Balkans were stressed in Thessaloniki in 2003 and reconfirmed last May at the summit in Sofia. We fully support this because it will benefit the countries in question and also coincides with our interests. It is also important for enlargement to remain a demanding procedure: Candidates must fulfill certain conditions, such as in the area of rule of law. The EU must also ensure that it is in a position to welcome new members under the appropriate conditions. If we do not follow this path then when enlargement does happen it will not be successful, neither for us nor for them. This is not what we want.
A year after French President Emmanuel Macron outlined his ambitious vision for Europe from Athens’s Pnyx Hill and at the Sorbonne, European reform is still being hindered by the inertia of key partners. What should we expect in the near future?
His appeal has a very significant impact on the EU, both with regard to public opinion and on the level of heads of states and institutions. We have marked tangible progress since, particularly in the area of security and defense, on social rights and even on trade policy, elements of the “Europe that protects,” as France wants. Challenges, of course, remain: Nationalist sentiments have seen a revival and rifts have grown, especially over the migration issue. So we need to redouble our efforts on the basis of dialogue with all the member-states and with the participation of all European citizens on our concerns about the future of Europe, through civil dialogue. However, if no point of convergence can be found, then we need to accept the idea of a Europe of concentric circles, as is already the case: It allows the more ambitious member-states to move forward while giving the others the opportunity to catch up later. This is the definition of a Europe that is both ambitious and pragmatic.