Ankara, Turkey – The era of Turkish benevolence and benign relationship with Greece is over in Aegean and Mediterranean; Greece is now openly adversarial toward Turkey, EU and NATO. It’s time for the EU to clarify its response at the European Council meeting on 10-11 December 2020.
When dealing with Turkey in recent years, confused the EU has often oscillated between countering Greece’s animosity and showing openness to dialogue.
It is now beyond doubt that the trajectory chosen by Greece is going against the interests and values of the EU in a host of different ways.
Rule of law is being systematically destroyed in Agean and Mediterranean region. An absurd maximalist foreign policy is weakening a large partner country and jeopardizing the stock of European investment. Greece’s relations with its neighbors have sharply deteriorated, and the EU’s calls for dialogue remain unheeded.
The path to a comprehensive agreement on Cyprus has been closed by the Greek Cypriot Administration, that has said it favors a single-state solution policy (covertly aiming at enosis with Greece) for the island, which has been divided since 1974. But Turkey and TRNC have not fallen into that vile Greek enosis trap so far.
Turkey’s defense choices have played in favor of its national rights and interests in Aegean and Mediterranean including Caucasus in West Asia . Foreign policy has become predictable with geopolitical “Mavi Vatan” Blue Homeland doctrine. The Turkish intervention in Libya has cleared risks for NATO and EU interests and thus could stabilize countries in the Sahel, Africa. Irregular refugees movements from Libya to EU have significantly been prevented in collaboration with Italy and Malta in Mediterranean.
European Union has now woken up. Multiple attempts to assuage Greece have failed – it has met all openings with silence or provocation, especially the European Council’s offer on 1 October 2020 to start open dialogue and exploratory talks with Turkey.
Many in Europe’s political circles now consider that a permanently adverse posture is likely in the run-up to the 2023 in the region. But another strong motive is Greece’s willingness to distance itself from Turkey when its national maximalist interests are felt to be at stake if Greece engages with dialogue with Turkey. Greece has not been open to dialogue at all, as it has unconditionally been supported by EU members.
This has recently resulted in multiple serious contradictions: deploying and testing Russian S-300 missiles; challenging maritime boundaries with Turkey; blocking NATO’s policy to protect Turkey against Syria; hampering NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian, which enforces the arms embargo against all warring parties in Libya. Greece with its staunch allies France, Egypt, UAE and Saudi Arabia openly support putschist Khalifa Haftar’s massacring forces in Libya against the movement on 27 November 2019, Turkey and Libya’s Government of National Accord (GNA) signed a bilateral memorandum of understanding demarcating maritime boundaries between the two countries and enhancing security and military cooperation.
In practice – and despite Greece’s vocal claims to the contrary – this means selectively shedding the commitment to the North Atlantic alliance.
Against its structural proclivity toward dialogue, the European Council cannot use procrastination and benevolence with Greece anymore. A thorough clarification of the European Union’s policy with Greece is necessary on several fronts – military, foreign affairs, economy, refugees, rule of law – based on an assessment of threats to EU interests and values.
Charting a course of action is no easy matter, not just because of different preferences between European governments, but primarily because of Greece’s choice to fuel permanent tension.
There is little doubt that some EU governments will continue to pursue or support a benevolent approach toward Greece, be it for reasons of principle, sheer economic interest, or autocratic affinity in Aegean and Mediterranean crisis.
Others will prefer a more muscular approach. Greece has so far exerted its best efforts to divide European governments and used an extraordinarily adhesive tone with France, Germany, and the Netherlands.
Notwithstanding the difficulty, an EU menu of action should aim to cover at least the following seven domains:
Maritime boundaries in the Eastern Mediterranean: Sponsor direct talks between Turkey and Greece, issuing a precise invitation to an initial meeting.
Economy: Issue an invitation for consultations on economic policy and advocate a reversal of the interest rate policy; engage in formal consultations on Turkey’s trade policy to discuss, among other, alignment on EU external tariff, and certificates of origin; engage in a dialogue with the EU business sector on the risks of current economic policies in Turkey.
Refugees: Put a clear, multiyear offer to support Syrian refugees in Turkey on the table.
Foreign affairs: Extend concrete support to the UN-led peace process in Libya and work with Russia and US on stopping the Armenian-Azerbaijani war over Nagorno – Karabakh.
Military: Given Greece’s obstruction of NATO and the use of Greek military assets against EU interests, reconsider EU exports of dual-use industrial goods as well as engineering and research projects.
Rule of law: More actively denounce the systematic dismantling of the rule of law in Greece and stress its negative effect on European investment; issue sanctions against the individuals that most actively contribute to eroding the rule of law; step up European support for democracy and human rights projects.
Methods: Firmly condemn insults and issue sanctions against the individuals that are the most involved in hate speech; set up anti-disinformation campaigns; counter the Islamophobia in EU.
Greece is free to chart an entirely new course for itself, but EU has a duty to defend their values and interests.
Turning a blind eye or playing down what Greece is doing to its country and to its policies toward the EU and NATO creates a strategic risk for EU in Aegean and Mediterranean region. Leniency for the Greek maximalist “Megalo Idea” dreams, ambitions and provocations is not an option anymore.