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

French Presidency priorities correspond closely to Greek ones

The goals of the French EU-Presidency are seen at first as over-ambitious – almost of a Gaulistic character – but with a tendency to be watered down little by little.[1] In any event, the priorities of the French Presidency correspond closely to areas of major interest in Greek public discourse. Moreover, there have been recent points of political convergence between Greece and France (most importantly for Greece: coordination of positions in the Bucharest 2008 spring NATO Summit over the controversial issue of FYROM[2] joining the Alliance, where the Greek veto was openly supported by France) which increased the visibility of French initiatives in Greek public opinion and made for an overall feeling of joint positioning in international fora.
Of the priorities declared by Paris, energy is of major interest for Greece – especially from an energy security point of view – due to its recent openings to ‘pipeline foreign policy’. Greece is actively participating in oil and gas pipeline projects (namely the “Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline” and the “South Stream gas projects”), through which Russian energy flows towards the EU are to increase. Given US warnings against ‘increased dependence from Russian oil and gas’, Athens is very much interested in putting its energy policy in a European/EU-setting.

Irish ‘No’ ignited political and public debate

The Irish ‘No’ over the Reform Treaty has created quite an impression in Greece, both among policy-makers and the public at large. Until the very last days before June 12th, the Irish vote was considered no more than a formality (as Greece was preparing to ratify the treaty with an overwhelming majority in Parliament). When the Irish ‘No’ was seen as a probable outcome, there had been a rather shallow public discussion about future implications and the speculation over the existence of a ‘plan B’.
The day after, there was the expected outcry of federalist circles against the Irish as well as dire predictions on their part as to institutional and political consequences of the ‘No’ vote, but voices raised in favour of somehow ‘excluding’ Ireland, were few. Finding a way out from the institutional impasse was viewed mainly as a challenge to the French Presidency.
On the other hand, in the press have been opinions interpreting the Irish ‘No’ as an inevitable consequence of the lack of communication of the European elites with wider audiences, as a side-effect of the opacity of the mechanisms constituting ‘Europe’.

“A Treaty, at last!”

Most of political circles, academia and the media welcomed in Greece the signing of the “Lisbon Treaty” in quite a positive way; indeed, “salvaging the essentials of the Constitution” seemed to be in Greece the consensus about the final outcome of the protracted efforts at institutional change and “bringing the EU at the 21st century” that the Laeken Summit started and the Reform Treaty finally crystallised. Greece, it should be remembered, had already ratified the Constitutional Treaty (at a four-fifths majority in Parliament, on April 19, 2005, second only to Italy in ratifying among the EU–15); the Government party – Nea Dimocratia – considers itself one of the most ardent proponents of active/federal European integration, as Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis was prompt in reminding Greek public opinion after the conclusion of the Lisbon proceedings in December 2007; the main Opposition party – PASOK – prided itself at having played an instrumental role in the final stages of the Convention process (at the Thessaloniki Summit, under the 2003 Greek Presidency).

Much needed leadership in times of crisis

A.D. Papagiannidis and Nikos Frangakis
The Lisbon Treaty was awaited with interest – if not with trepidation – in Greece, where ratification had proceeded smoothly, while the mainstream political forces, the media and academia were expecting that institutional change would serve as an incentive for a more active Europe.[1] The fact that new provisions of the Lisbon Treaty started working just as a severe, real-time crisis situation was underway (even more so, a crisis in which Greece was instrumental indeed) served to make the treaty’s implementation and the Union’s institutional mechanisms in general a major issue.
The figure of Herman Van Rompuy was initially greeted with some reluctance, although not in a negative way, given the lack of “international stature” of the Belgian ex-Prime Minister. References to his consensus-building prowess or even to his haiku-writing were often found in the media; but when the Greek debt crisis (and the search for some sort of “European solution”) erupted, Van Rompuy’s role in conducting European Council Summit operations, especially in March 2010, and in bridging the bitter differences between Germany and France or rather between Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, brought him centre-stage in Greece.

Greek debt crisis strains the EU’s commitment to European solidarity

A.D. Papagiannidis and Nikos Frangakis
The gravity of the debt crisis and the pain experienced due to the EC/ECB/IMF sponsored stabilisation package for 2010-2014 presently dominate public discourse. Drastic cuts to salaries and pensions, combined with higher taxation are measures to be faced by the vast majority of people in Greece. It is to be expected, though, that the questions raised by limited and hesitant European solidarity in face of the onslaught of the financial markets will lead to deeper doubts as to Greece’s membership in future.[1] In late 2009 and early 2010, the extent of Greece’s budget deficit and the feeling that statistical data were intentionally fudged made for extremely negative comments on the part of EU authorities and for increasing uneasiness on the part of several European capitals; still, the new Greek Government initially insisted that a plan to bring back growth (through assistance to lower-income groups) should be applied, with moves such as cutting back public expenditure and raising taxes coming a distant second. Even more importantly, public opinion was largely supportive of this stance, while “Brussels pressures” (as well as the downgrading of Greek paper by the markets) were viewed as something close to unwarranted external intrusion in national policy-making.

Green ideas supported, but modernisation is a pressing need

A.D. Papagiannidis and Nikos Frangakis
The new Greek government of centre-left Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) has strong “Green” beliefs. The run-up to Copenhagen and the workings of Copenhagen proper were closely followed in the media and by public opinion, while a feeling of “lost opportunity” was the main judgment on Copenhagen’s results. Given the ever-present/latent anti-American feeling in Greece, the fact that the USA were (along with China) hesitant in following the EU and adhering to the active environmental agenda of Copenhagen led to strong public sentiment deploring the lack of progress and of tangible results of the conference.[1]

There is support for stronger EU environmental initiatives in the follow-up to Copenhagen. Both the internal implementation of measures (in a direction enhancing the so called ‘20-20-20’ objectives) and the international efforts at binding emissions ceilings are deemed necessary for climate change to be credibly faced. Still, the fact that Greek industry – especially power production through the burning of lignite – is visibly trailing the goals set for emissions limitation is little discussed or realised.[2]

Greek Initiative for an agenda 2014 for enlargement

A.D. Papagiannidis and Nikos Frangakis
Insofar as enlargement is concerned, the focus of attention in Greece lies in the efforts/expectations to bring around positive results for the Western Balkans by 2014 (“Agenda 2014”). This goal corresponds to intensive Greek efforts undertaken earlier on, which Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou (who is also Foreign Minister) publicly reiterated, i.a., in Athens in the course of a presentation at The Economist/Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) conference of 29 April 2010. Still, Serb Prime Minister Mirko Cvetkovic, in this very same context, was clearly quite hesitant to hope for such a time-frame (while he stressed the pre-eminent importance of making the Serb economy and political context EU-compliant, rather than fight for accession). In May 2010, the Greek initiative for an “Agenda 2014” for the Western Balkans was mirrored by regional EU member states Bulgaria and Romania, at a meeting on the level of foreign ministers.
Within the same context of the Western Balkans, Greece hopes that the promise of EU accession would serve as a major political attraction so as to render Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) positions more adapted to Greek expectations in the never-ending name-cum-nationalism dispute of the two sides. In this matter, no positive evolution is to be noted.