The day after (on two fronts)

Posted by Antonis D. Papagiannidis 11/02/2019 3 Comment(s) Economia Blog,

On both major fronts of Greek foreign relations – the regional in character but with spillover effects “name issue” with Northern Macedonia and the multifarious Greek-Turkish argument – “the day after” is of essence.


To be honest, such a day after can prove quite long in duration. According to the Prespes Treaty, Athens and Skopje will have 5 years of bilateral talks, largely technical but inevitably fraught with strain, to smooth over/defuse conflicts over trademarks or over history books taught at school, or even over names and symbols in public places. Taking the long view, though, can be misleading: Greece’s northern neighbour faces presidential elections in some weeks’ time, with early parliamentary elections gaining in probability. Greece enters a multiple-elections stretch, where even regional/local elections (e.g. in Northern Greece/Macedonia) could destabilise politics.


It is no easy matter to ask of politicians who, even if of (proclaimed) European conviction, will never stop being of (deeply-routed) Balkan creed, to sacrifice much of their immediate political benefit to let long-term considerations prevail. In Greece – Northern Macedonia relations the real challenge will be not to let the immediate future derail the longer term (The same goes for great-power meddling: Russians will not stop being active and claim decisive influence in the region; Americans can always be high-handed; Europeans have never achieved a coordinated position).


On the Greek-Turkish relations front, the day after will come quite soon: the Defense Ministers of the two sides, both of them former Chiefs of Staff of their respective armies, will use a NATO meeting later this week to set up some sort of détente routine over the Aegean, where tensions had grown dangerous as of lately. The diplomats of Greece and Turkey will also slog along the less-documented, but still quite important path of confidence-building measures.


Will both treks be allowed to mature to something tangible before the next incident puts fire to bilateral relations? Will the pressures resulting from the ongoing talks over the Cyprus issue (with natural-gaz findings looming large indeed in the background, with ExxonMobil recently inviting Cypriot politicians to the Stena Icemax drilling platform at the Glafkos field of the Cyprus EEZ) influence in a non-destructive way the attempted rapprochement of Athens and Ankara?


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