Greek Business File, January-February-March 2020, No 124
By A. D. Papagiannidis
Steady course ahead, or fraught with risk?
In Greece the year 2020 has started with some institutional change – a new President of the Republic has been named, Supreme Court President Katerina Sakellaropoulou; a fresh electoral system voted in, claiming future Government stability; plus some degree of political participation opened to diaspora Greeks. As always, the crux is in the fi ne print and not in declared intentions: Will Sakellaropoulou prove to serve as a figure of national unity in turbulent times? Will a future electoral system designed to avoid confusion associated with proportional representation really provide Greece with better governance? Will Greeks abroad participate effectively in their homeland’s life?
This same year starts with the economy on a steady course –no small feat for a country only out of its third Adjustment Programme since mid-2018– and with financial markets taking a benevolent view of things to come. Somewhere between the political and the economic side of things, 2020 seeks a positive way forward.
Speaking of positive wishes, on just the second day of the year, the foundations were laid for a consortium to undertake the EastMed gas pipeline (a venture having secured neither the gas to fill it, nor the finance to build it, but nonetheless with an important geopolitical function) through a high-profile intergovernmental agreement in Athens: Israel, Greece and Cyprus –in descending order of importance– are to be joined later by Italy, which currently has some green reservations, or rather political ones masquerading as ecological.
This ambitious project comes right in the middle of severe geopolitical disturbance in the region. A Turkish-Libyan accord for the delineation of their respective (claimed) Exclusive Economic Zones that purportedly cuts Greece off from the Eastern Mediterranean and from the EEZ of Cyprus, is a cause for more than concern. The official visit of Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis to the US and his talks with President Donald Trump and much of the American foreign-policy apparatus, have sent mixed signals.
American intentions to mediate in the tense climate of the Eastern Mediterranean (into which the Aegean issues are being sucked) are yet unclear. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has insinuated that –at some later time– he may join in the eff orts to normalize the situation. Meanwhile Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer will travel to Turkey in February; he will be in Greece in early March (to join the Delphi Forum crowd). But in the Greece-Turkey increasingly tense relations, a month is quite a long time; a week can be a game-changer.
Mitsotakis has been hinting repeatedly that he (=Greece) would be willing to join a judicial approach to the current dispute through the International Court of Justice. But Turkey is notoriously adverse to accepting UNCLOS/ the current Law of the Sea, even more so the jurisdiction of a Court applying UNCLOS; Greece accepts it only insofar as Continental Shelf/EEZ delimitation is concerned but refuses jurisdiction over sovereignty issues (in the context of ITLOS, the Hamburg Tribunal of the Law of the Sea). So, the way forward remains fraught with risk.
In the event of a localized flare-up or of an accident “with deadly and complex military systems operating at close distance” (as US Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt has repeatedly warned), no adequate US firefighter looks to be on call. “Who will pick up the phone in Washington as Richard Holbrooke did on January 31, 1996”?: this unpleasant question reverberates in the ears of participants to discrete discussions on the increasingly tense Greek-Turkish relations.