Greek Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas is prepared to play patience in building consensus in the European Union on support for his proposed EU "Marshall Plan" to assist reforms in the Middle East and North Africa. Speaking in an interview with the English language edition of "The Sofia Ecco" electronic newspaper, Droutsas acknowledged that it would take time for the idea to be debated and accepted throughout the bloc.
The Greek foreign minister also spelt out Greece’s foreign policy vision for giving new impetus to the EU accession prospects of the Western Balkans, dwelt on the way ahead should Athens’s dispute with Skopje about the use of the name "Macedonia" be resolved and spoke of the implications for Europe and the wider world in dealing with Greece’s economic crisis.
Droutsas said that he was working in close co-operation with Bulgarian Foreign Minister Nikolai Mladenov on core issues in what the EU leadership calls its "Southern Neighbourhood" region - North Africa and the Middle East.
"Both countries (Greece and Bulgaria) approach to the Libya issue is that we need urgently to start a political process. Military intervention alone will not bring the desired results," Droutsas said.
He said that developments in the Arab world had major implications for Europe, notably in large flows of migrants and refugees.
As an EU outer border, Greece was significantly affected by illegal migration, he said. "About 90 per cent of illegal migrants use Greece as an entry point."
On the one hand, this was because Greece’s sea borders were difficult to guard and control, while on the other, neighbouring Turkey was not co-operating in dealing with the issue.
Regarding the migration policy of the EU, Droutsas said, "we have a clear policy statement that EU member states should take up the necessary burden sharing".
On his proposal for a "Marshall Plan" - a reference to the US-led post-World War 2 programme to finance the reconstruction of Europe along democratic and free-market lines - Droutsas said that he understood the counter-argument that Europe already faced constraints after the economic crisis.
However, he said, his argument was that such a programme should be seen as a "real investment" in the region, and ultimately in the EU’s own peace and stability.
"If we invest in the region in the right way, we shall create economic growth, also meaning economic growth for the EU itself."
Noting that NATO had announced that it was extending its operations around Libya to September, Droutsas said that Greece fully backed a solution envisaged in the relevant UN Security Council resolution.
On the Western Balkans, Droutsas said that Greece - along with Bulgaria and Romania - wanted a revival of the EU prospects of the countries of that area of Europe.
Again, he said that with his Bulgarian counterpart Nikolai Mladenov and the Bulgarian Foreign Ministry, there was "very intensive co-ordination and co-operation" based on a common vision of wanting to see all the countries of the Western Balkans becoming EU member states.
He likened the principle to the support given by Greece to the EU membership prospects of Bulgaria and Romania, before the two countries joined the bloc in January 2007.
Greece, which in 2003 had hosted the Thessaloniki summit that had been a landmark in a vision and criteria for EU expansion, had come up with "Agenda 2014" regarding the EU perspectives of the Western Balkans.
"We had the feeling that the issue of the European accession prospects of the Balkan states, since the 2003 Greek presidency, had lost its dynamic," Droutsas said. A predominant factor in this was the "enlargement fatigue" among several long-established EU states.
On the issue of whether it was contradictory for Greece to voice support for the EU accession of the Western Balkans while its dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (fYRoM) about the "name issue" meant that Skopje’s EU prospects were at a standstill, Droutsas said that this was no contradiction.
He said that since George Papandreou’s socialist PASOK government came to power in October 2009, Athens had sought to complement the name dispute resolution process mediated by UN special envoy Matthew Nimetz with person-to-person contacts between the two countries’ prime ministers, at the initiative of Papandreou.
The fYRoM name dispute, according to Droutsas, was "an issue deeply rooted in the soul of every Greek". "But if we want to sincerely pursue a solution, we (Athens and Skopje) have to talk, to understand each other a bit better."
Greece wants a name with a geographical qualifier, Droutsas said, reasoning that such usage, by all countries internationally, would stave off any future territorial issues and "nationalistic" issues.
Greece sought a compromise in which there would be neither winners nor losers, and after such a solution was achieved and its neighbour could start EU membership negotiations, Greece would be the "most reliable partner" in supporting these aspirations, he said.
On the Greek economic crisis, Droutsas said that the existing austerity measures already had produced "encouraging positive results".
Greece, Droutsas said, had in the year 2010 cut its budget deficit by five percentage points, which he said was an achievement never before arrived at in the eurozone. Greece had undergone major reforms in the public sector, undertaken "very serious" tax reform and moved against tax evasion, and had carried out substantial reform of the social security system, he added.
The country had increased its exports by 35 per cent year-on-year and figures indicated that the Greek summer tourism season in 2011 would be "very successful," he said.
Indications were that by the end of 2011 or the beginning of 2012 Greece would return to economic growth and thus out of recession, Droutsas also said.
"We are on the right path, still a lot of work is necessary," he added.