Double jeopardy, twice

by Antonis D. Papagiannidis

The “Generation Next” EU Summit, spread all over the last weekend and still underway on Monday, was quite a trial for Greece. Along with the Southeners of Europe – Italy, Spain, Portugal but also France – who laboured under the strain of the Covid-19 epidemic and its heavy impact on their already-fragile economies, heavily dependent on tourism. Greece had to live through the suspense of the negotiations over the extent and (most importantly) the conditionality of the support to be offered by the Recovery Fund.

But Greece had also the unenviable task to have to convince the summiteers – heads of State or of Government, Foreign and Finance Ministers, diplomatic retinues, sherpas and all that crowd – that the rising pressure on itself (and on Cyprus) from an increasingly aggressive Turkey should cause a commensurate “European” reaction. A timely reaction; that is to say, before a real flare-up occurs either in the Eastern Mediterranean or closer to the Aegean.

To try and manage both tasks, that is to withstand the counter-offensive of the Frugal Four (already Five) over the Recovery Fund, along with the re-awakening of negative reflexes of a wider circle of Central Europeans whenever the spectre of the spendthrift South arises, while the effort to educate “Europe” to the inherent menace of a rambunctious Turkey waits its turn – all of it an unenviable task!

The real problem, though, is that this double jeopardy facing Greek diplomacy is in fact faced twice. How come? To start from the wake-up call on Turkish behaviour: the last-moment move of Ankara, to convert the hallowed Hagia Sophia monumental Byzantine cathedral to a mosque may have raised emotions throughout Christendom and “the West” (whatever that is). But how to compare it in practical/ political terms with the refugee/migrant millions held at bay by Turkey, so as not to break through the European borders? Also on the Recovery Fund front: negotiations on the size and technicalities blend uncomfortably with the MFF, that is the main EU Budget for 2021-27. Greece is uncomfortably on the receiving end in both matters.

Not an easy situation: amid the ruckus of this Summit, a tough time indeed to make one’s voice heard.