It therefore seems a symptom of Europe’s wider foreign policy malaise that the geopolitical consequences of the Greek crisis have been largely ignored. It is hardly surprising that analysts increasingly see Europe as losing global influence while it becomes more introverted than ever.
A “Grexit” may now look far less likely than during the last two years, but Greece still has the characteristics of a fragile state. A social explosion or some kind of social paralysis that would prevent reforms cannot be discounted. The unstable and fluid situation on Europe’s periphery, ranging from the uprisings of the Arab spring (where the EU is still all but absent) to tension with Iran, uncertainties over EU-Turkish relations and Russian foreign policy developments in Putin’s new presidential era mean that Europe can ill afford a security vacuum in its region.
"Energy-related projects could be instrumental in repairing Greece’s image, re-acquiring a regional role and accumulating ‘diplomatic capital’"
The European Union should therefore pursue a pragmatic policy for achieving key geopolitical and geo-economic objectives and for better promoting its interests. In other words, a policy that goes beyond bean-counting and tackles the Greek problem in the context of the EU’s regional and global role, not merely that of its economic policies.
Even before the current crisis broke, Greece punched below its weight on most foreign and security policy issues, allowing itself to abandon aspects of its regional role in south-eastern Europe while allowing its role inside the EU to atrophy. An inward-looking and passive foreign policy mentality led to very few foreign policy initiatives. Athens neither exploited opportunities for multilateral initiatives nor established tactical and strategic alliances. Greek foreign policy now needs to re-adjust to the changing regional and global security and economic environment while contributing to the national effort to re-build the economy. It needs to do so with very limited resources and under severe time pressure.
The key concept for Greek foreign and security policy in the next few years will be the smart use of its resources in energy, relations with emerging powers, notably with Israel while maintaining its ties with the Arab world, regaining its influence in south-eastern Europe and using its EU presidency in the first half of next year to become more active again within the Union. To achieve these priority tasks, structural reforms are needed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Athens and of its wider foreign policy mechanisms with an emphasis on economic diplomacy. There will also have to be security sector reform and more “smart defence” if Greece is to maintain its deterrent capabilities with its much reduced defence budget.
Greece should focus in the short-term on three issues: enlarging its footprint in the energy map, managing migratory flows and deepening its strategic relationship with Israel, without abandoning its traditional ties with the Arab world.
"Structural reforms are needed at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Athens and of its wider foreign policy mechanisms with an emphasis on economic diplomacy"
Energy-related projects could be instrumental in repairing Greece’s image, re-acquiring a regional role and accumulating ‘diplomatic capital’. And in the medium- to long-term these could do much to fuel the recovery of its economy. The Southern Gas Corridor can play an important role, and if the Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) is selected this will give a major boost to Greece’s economy and to its role both in the western Balkans and in Europe’s energy security. Greece should therefore try to enlarge its energy footprint not just through projects, like South Stream, but through the exploitation of possible hydrocarbon deposits in western Greece and maritime areas south-east of Crete. While Greece should intensify its diplomatic efforts for the delimitation of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and other maritime zones with neighbouring countries, according to the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), this should not delay efforts to exploit its own natural resources.
The flow of migrants from Asia and Africa remains a major cause for concern for Greece because the country is Europe’s “first line of defence”, with the Dublin II Regulation of 2003 having created an obligation for the country of first arrival in the EU to not allow illegal immigrants to travel to other EU countries. Greece is trying to deal with the problem with a package of measures including a more efficient asylum mechanism, increased reception and detention facilities, and the use of FRONTEX assets in the Aegean. Greece’s land border with Turkey has been strengthened by a 12.5 km security wall, and greater EU support for securing the full co-operation of Turkey would be helpful.
Energy co-operation holds the key to a strategic rapprochement between Greece, Cyprus and Israel. Athens and Nicosia need to engage Tel-Aviv on a number of issues, proceeding with zeal but also with caution as the whole region is undergoing a deep transformation. All three countries are faced with a complex security equation that has known variables but also many unknown ones. The regional security matrix involves regional and extra-regional actors with relationships that are changing almost continuously. On Palestinian-Israeli peace negotiations, a contact group of France, Egypt and Greece could work with the U.S. and the EU to revive the talks, with Russia, Turkey and Saudi Arabia included at a second stage.
"Greece should focus in the short-term on three issues: enlarging its footprint in the energy map, managing migratory flows and deepening its strategic relationship with Israel, without abandoning its traditional ties with the Arab world"
Three more foreign policy issues should have high priority. Greece has a special relationship with Russia and China, and once Athens regains its self-confidence it could act as an additional bridge between the EU and both of those countries. As to Greek-Turkish relations, for very different reasons, neither side is prepared to make any substantial moves to resolve their differences, and that will remain the case until at least 2014. Athens and Ankara should focus on improving their economic relations and avoiding conflict on energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean.
The third issue is the name dispute with FYROM. Greece may have missed opportunities in the past, but it should be clear that a solution based on a compound name of the type “Republic of…Macedonia” would prevent either side from monopolising the Macedonian identity while at the same time satisfying Skopje’s core objective and allowing parties to normalise their relations. Yet any attempt to sidestep Greek concerns would be counterproductive because it would further humiliate a psychologically injured Greece and cause a further rise of nationalism. It would also be perceived as rewarding a political leadership that has focused on building monuments of questionable taste and historical veracity instead of facing FYROM’s contemporary challenges.
This sort of “new Greece” could clearly be a useful instrument in regions of critical importance to the EU’s overall security interests, but a word of caution. Just as Greeks must avoid a Grexit resulting from their own wrong decisions, there’s also no need for a European debate on “who lost Greece.”