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Statement of Foreign Affairs Minister, Mrs Dora Bakoyannis at the joint press conference with European People's Party President Mr. Wilfried Martens

23 July, 2007

Ladies and Gentlemen good morning,

It was a great pleasure meeting with President Martens again this morning.

As always, we had a very interesting, fruitful and constructive discussion.

Mr. President, thank you.

I would like to begin by expressing our satisfaction that the election in Turkey run smoothly and that democracy prevailed.

I would like to congratulate the AKP - an observer party to the EPP - and Prime Minister Erdogan personally on an impressive victory. Turkey needs a stable, democratic, European minded government, which I believe the AKP can once again provide.

As many of you may know, Greece strongly and tirelessly supports Turkey's European perspective. We hope that Turkey will demonstrate, that it will conform to the institutional, political, and economic acquis of the EU.

Full compliance must equal full membership.

Within this context respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, including minority rights, constitute an essential component of a democratic society. We hope that the efforts for reforms that have been undertaken in Turkey will continue.

We wish that the democratic rule of law will be fully established and observed without deviations. To this end along with our European partners and friends we support and encourage all the political and social forces who actively contribute to this end.

A few days ago we received with regret the information on the recent decision by the Turkish Court of Cassation which passed a ruling, inter alia, on the Ecumenical role of the Orthodox Patriarchate, its legal personality and its internal election process.

This is a deplorable decision as it intervenes in issues of purely religious nature. In an attempt to minimize the religious role of the Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarchate, the court - for the first time since 1923 - rules on the ecclesiastical title of the Ecumenical Patriarch, who has been the head of the Orthodox Church worldwide since the 6th century AD.

The Ecumenical Patriarchate is the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide. He must be let free to exercise its religious duties and accomplish its mission, in line with the letter and spirit of article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights and the case law of the European Court of the Human Rights.

Once again, we urge Turkeyto accept the Ecumenical Patriarchate's international recognition and ecclesiastic succession by recognizing the legal status of the Ecumenical Patriarchate as well as the right to train clergy of all nationalities.

The property rights of the Ecumenical Patriarchate should be reaffirmed and the reopening of the Halki Seminary addressed.

Under such grave circumstances and facing such significant obstacles there is a clear and present danger that the Patriarchate may not be able to sustain itself beyond the current generation. Turkey must honour its commitments towards the EU on an issue of great importance directly connected with the Copenhagen criteria and explicitly included in the Negotiating Framework.

We must act.

We must act before it is too late.

In this spirit I would like to once again thank President Martens and the European People's Party for their sincere and vocal support.