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Greek PM calls for EU coast guard

Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis (second right) with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi at the Upper Barrakka Gardens yesterday. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli.

Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis (second right) with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi at the Upper Barrakka Gardens yesterday. Photo: Matthew Mirabelli.

Describing Frontex patrols as "inadequate" and hailing the EU's pact on immigration and asylum as a step in the right direction, Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis thinks an EU coast guard needs to be set up.

"We need to strengthen, reinforce and support Frontex, which I think is good but not adequate. The final and ambitious step is the creation of a European coast guard," he said.

In Malta on an official visit, Mr Karamanlis, who held talks with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi, told a press conference that his country was strongly in favour of the EU pact, due to be signed next week, and was committed to helping Malta with the plight of irregular migration.

The pact will, for the first time, introduce the concept of burden-sharing between EU member states.

Mr Karamanlis said irregular migration was a major concern for both Greece and Malta, adding that it was imperative for EU countries to respond "jointly and effectively" to the problem.

Asked specifically whether Greece was prepared to share Malta's burden, Mr Karamanlis avoided giving a direct reply and diplomatically said: "Greece strongly supports the immigration and asylum pact because it brings to the forefront European solidarity.

"Illegal migration is a common European problem that demands concrete steps. The pact is a very important step in the right direction and is a serious sign that the EU is taking stands on the issue... The final and ambitious step is the creation of a European coast guard."

On this, Dr Gonzi said he completely disagreed with recent statements that Frontex was a failure. He said it could certainly do more and he thanked Greece for its support of Frontex, especially through the provision of assets and resources.

He said Frontex was part and parcel of the EU's immigration pact and that was why he, like his Greek counterpart, was looking forward to signing the pact in Brussels next week, to set the ball rolling and start putting it into practice.

Dr Gonzi thanked Greece for its support whenever Malta raised the issue of illegal migration at an EU level.

Both prime ministers discussed the financial turmoil affecting world economies. Mr Karamanlis said its impact, even on European economies, was evident, especially since it coincided with the high prices of food, fuel, oil and other raw materials.

It was imperative, he said, that European governments ensured citizens did not lose confidence in their economies.

Replying to a direct question on whether he was concerned about the situation, Dr Gonzi replied in the affirmative.

Malta was insisting on the need for reform so that the country could remain competitive and continue attracting foreign direct investment which, in turn, created employment opportunities. The impact of this turmoil would continue to be felt in the coming months, he said.

Mr Karamanlis said his country had already taken measures to limit the effect of the global financial crisis. On a bilateral level, the two prime ministers discussed relations between the two countries, both of which are EU member states, have adopted the euro and form part of the Schengen zone.

They agreed to explore the possibility of holding annual bilateral meetings to share ideas in all areas of interest to both countries.

Tourism seemed to be the most promising area for joint ventures, and the two countries should further exploit their maritime background - Greece and Malta had two of the biggest shipping registers in the world.

Following the joint press conference, Dr Gonzi accompanied Mr Karamanlis to the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta and then proceeded to the Palace for a courtesy visit on President Eddie Fenech Adami, followed by a tour of St John's Co-Cathedral.

In the afternoon, Mr Karamanlis lunched at San Anton Palace, Attard, and also fitted in a visit to Mdina. Back at his hotel, Mr Karamanlis had a meeting with Opposition Leader Joseph Muscat and in the evening attended an official dinner at Castille.

Mr Karamanlis leaves Malta this morning.

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