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Friday, 24 May 2013

Greece's foreign policy priorities

David Madden

On 20 May, Ambassador Konstantinos Bikas spoke at a SEESOX seminar on Greek foreign policy. The major task was to strengthen the external credibility of Greece. The financial crisis in South East Europe was part of the global debt crisis. There were many factors: debtor country misuse of loans; EU governance failures; unsustainable interest rates; no fiscal transfers within Euro zone. Greece had now come close to a primary budget surplus, with huge social pain; but Greeks wanted to stay within Eurozone.

The Greek relationship with the Drachma was not the same as UK with the £. Greece needed a relationship with rest of Europe (and inflationary memories of Drachma made Grexit deeply unattractive). Regional foreign policy: there was regional consensus on abandoning nationalism in the Balkans. There were good prospects on Greece/Turkey. Turkey would eventually join the EU, and that was in the interests of Greece. Cyprus: there had to be a solution. This would need to go beyond talks between the two communities to involve Ankara directly. Energy discoveries created a new situation and all parties in E Med must benefit. Benefits should be shared for the entire island, after a resolution of the current division. There should be regional partnerships.

Developments on Serbia/Kosovo were positive. Greece accepted Kosovan membership of EBRD. Greece was keen to find a solution on the name of FYROM, but was the government in Skopje ready for compromise? Relations were pragmatic, but the ball was in the Skopje court for a solution.

The cultural heritage of Greece in the UK was remarkable, as was the number of Greek students: third after China and India.

The Ambassador added a number of points in answer to questions. Greece had not collapsed: it still held 35th place in UN prosperity scale. It would become more competitive after the crisis. Greece was ready to accept mosques as the obligation of a democratic society: this was in no way a natter of Greek/Turkish relations. Illegal immigration from Turkey was a huge quantitative problem, bringing social problems in its wake; the EU had failed to press Turkey, and should do more. The rise of Golden Dawn was connected more to this than to the economic crisis.

After 5 years of austerity, 75% of Greeks still wanted to be in Euro – it was seen as an anchor. People were angry and in pain, but they stuck to the policy.

There was no way to impose a solution on Cyprus, especially in the current crisis. Cyprus was not a failed state. Attempts to use the crisis to push Cyprus to a solution wouldn't work and created nationalism.

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