Europe should tread carefully in our neighbourhood

Greece used to have a clearly negative position regarding independence (or independence-equivalent) solutions, insofar the final status of Kosovo is concerned. Greek public opinion has been steadily supportive of Serbia – and welcoming Russian support to Serb positions over Kosovar independence. Still, as the final initiative in Kosovo was getting closer (certainly in fall 2007), Greek official positions started to waver and an Ahtisaari-based outcome now looks more palatable to Athens – at least insofar it bears an EU seal of approval. Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni is credited (or debited, depending on one’s position) with this shift, which has not been closely monitored by the media nor has raised much interest in public opinion.
 
The never-ending FYRoM issue
 
For Greece, as is well known, the major issue of interest in the Balkans is relations with the FYRoM. The touchy matter of that country’s constitutional name (Republic of Macedonia), which is not recognised by Greece since it is considered prone to confusion with the Greek province of Macedonia, leading to minority-cum-irredentist claims etc, remains contentious. Bilateral negotiations under the auspices of the UN are underway, but multilateral relations involving the FYRoM such as NATO accession and progress in EU accession talks remain (for Greece) conditional on a mutually agreed way out of the “name impasse” being found.
 
The final outcome in Kosovo with the proclamation of independence, raised grave concerns in Greece, since a domino effect of Albanian-dominated Kosovar independence is thought liable to destabilise the FYRoM (where the Tetovo region is Albanian-majority populated) and eventually lead to “Greater Albania” dreams being put in practice.
 
Negotiations under the auspices of the UN between Greece and the FYRoM in order to seek a way out of the impasse over the latter’s name, renewed under heavy international pressure in February 2008, ended (or seemed to end) in deadlock. Greece has formally announced that if no mutually agreed solution is found, it will have to veto the proceedings for FYRoM participation to NATO (expected to begin at the NATO spring Summit), as well as for any close relations with the EU[1].
 
Overall, Greek attitudes insofar the Western Balkans – and that region’s countries’ relations with the EU – are concerned, are mainly dictated by the need not to disrupt delicate equilibria (which had been dangerously tested in the Nineties).
 
Greek-Turkish relations…
 
This goes, even more so, for relations with Turkey. The fact that the pace for EU-Turkey relations has slackened has not changed the official Greek position – a position reiterated by the Government and supported by the main Opposition party whose leader is George Papandreou, the architect, while Foreign Minister, of Greek-Turkish rapprochement on a EU-dependent basis – that Turkish accession to the EU should remain the ultimate goal. With the clear proviso that “Turkey should fulfil all of [Copenhagen] accession criteria”, with good-neighbourhood relations (interpreted as meaning lessening of tensions with Greece, stepping back from claims over the Aegean and from raising minority issues in Thrace) being included. This last position has been re-iterated and clearly stated during Greek Prime Minister Karamanlis official January 2008 visit in Ankara and talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul[2].
 
 …and the Cyprus issue
 
February elections in Cyprus have brought to power political forces less opposed to an eventual renegotiation of the Annan Plan, which would lead to a re-unification of the island, thus unfreezing the North’s participation to (among other things) European mechanisms. Greece has made positive noises, but at a safe distance for the time being.


[1] A comprehensive Government official position can be found at (Greek Foreign Minister’s) Dora Bakoyanni address at the Center of Strategic International Studies in Washington (22 Feb. 2008), available at: (last access: 04.03.2008). The position of the main Opposition party (“The national red line for the Skopje issue”) can be found at: (last access: 04.03.2008). 

[2] The outline of the Greek positions was given in an interview of Dora Bakoyanni at the Turkish newspaper Millyiet (4 Dec. 2007), available at: (last access: 04.03.2008). An assessment of the visit outcome, from the same source, was given at an interview to the Greek newspaper Kathimerini (2 Feb. 2008), available at: (last access: 04.03.2008).