1. The Eastern Neighbours and Russia

Russian Temptation, European Inclination

The debate on the rela­tions of Greece with Rus­sia reached a turn­ing point when the Coali­tion of the Rad­i­cal Left (SYRIZA) par­ty won the elec­tions on the 25th of Jan­u­ary 2015, and with the sub­se­quent dif­fi­cul­ties that the coun­try has met in the nego­ti­a­tions with its Euro­pean partners/creditors on the finan­cial adjust­ment pro­gramme (Mem­o­ran­dum of Under­stand­ing, MoU).

Notwith­stand­ing that a com­fort­able major­i­ty of the Greek peo­ple is unit­ed by the idea of belong­ing to the Euro­pean Union and the Εuro­zone, the gov­ern­ment shows a cer­tain ten­den­cy towards inten­si­fy­ing and deep­en­ing its rela­tions with Rus­sia. This is due to the his­tor­i­cal and cul­tur­al rela­tions between the two coun­tries, to the pos­si­bil­i­ties offered by Rus­sia to make Greece an impor­tant point of ener­gy tran­sit towards Cen­tral and West­ern Europe, but above all, Rus­sia serves as a coun­ter­bal­ance to the pres­sure exert­ed by the cred­i­tor insti­tu­tions, regard­ing the aus­ter­i­ty pol­i­cy pro­mot­ed by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion, the Euro­pean Cen­tral Bank and the Inter­na­tion­al Mon­e­tary Fund.

Fur­ther­more, in June 2015 Greece and Rus­sia exam­ined the pos­si­bil­i­ty of extend­ing the Turk­ish Stream project to Greece through a South Euro­pean pipeline, but the dis­cus­sions have remained stag­nant, in view of the recent polit­i­cal devel­op­ments in Greece. There has even been an attempt to inves­ti­gate the inten­tions of Rus­sia on the prospect of a loan, while the pos­si­bil­i­ty of Greece’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the New Devel­op­ment Bank is cur­rent­ly under examination.

Giv­en that these per­spec­tives seem rather far­fetched and hard­ly plau­si­ble, the rela­tions of Greece with Rus­sia may ame­lio­rate, but with­out any sig­nif­i­cant change in the alliances of the coun­try and of its geopo­lit­i­cal position.

The above must be read in the light of the impact of the sanc­tions imposed by the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment on the export of agri­cul­tur­al prod­ucts from EU coun­tries, due to which Greek pro­duc­ers have suf­fered sig­nif­i­cant loss­es in 2015. In June and July 2015, Rus­sia reject­ed the pos­si­bil­i­ty of lift­ing EU food embar­go espe­cial­ly for Greece, reit­er­at­ing that Moscow will lift its embar­go on Euro­pean foods only when the West scraps its sanc­tions against Rus­sia. At the same time the num­ber of Russ­ian tourists vis­it­ing Greece was diminished.

National Interests Aligned to the Mediterranean, Turkey

In view of the above, Greece and the Greek peo­ple seem more open with regards to under­stand­ing the vital strate­gic inter­ests of Rus­sia in Ukraine. This is why the Crimea inva­sion has not trig­gered sig­nif­i­cant reac­tions. Indeed, there is lit­tle inter­est of pub­lic opin­ion towards the prob­lems of the EU’s part­ner­ship with East­ern Euro­pean coun­tries. The atten­tion focus­es most­ly on Turkey, the cri­sis in the Mid­dle-East and North Africa — fac­tors which may upgrade, accord­ing to the gov­ern­ment, the geopo­lit­i­cal impor­tance of Greece in the eyes of its allies with­in NATO.

Domestic Issues at the Forefront

The Riga Sum­mit on the East­ern Part­ner­ship has passed almost unper­ceived. The atten­tion of the pub­lic opin­ion and of the media was most­ly con­cen­trat­ed on the meet­ings which took place in the side-lines of the sum­mit regard­ing the Greek bail-out pro­gramme and the diver­gences which emerged in the dis­cus­sions relat­ing thereto.

Strategic Interests Lie with Improved Border Controls

Greece does not envis­age a Euro­pean army, as it does not believe itself to have the same strate­gic inter­ests as many of its part­ners — espe­cial­ly towards Rus­sia which is large­ly con­sid­ered as a poten­tial part­ner. The main pre­oc­cu­pa­tion lies with the sur­veil­lance of the country’s east­ern bor­ders where the pres­ence of the EU bor­der man­age­ment agency Fron­tex is con­sid­ered to be com­plete­ly insuf­fi­cient, in view of the recent out­burst of migrants’ and refugees’ flows on the islands of the north-east part of the Aegean Sea.

2. EU Enlargement

Economy at the Forefront, Expansion on the Sidelines

Greece has been so absorbed by its eco­nom­ic and fis­cal adjust­ment prob­lems, that the pub­lic debate on the enlarge­ment towards the East and on neigh­bour­hood pol­i­cy has been almost non-exis­tent. In this con­text, the cri­sis in Ukraine does not seem to have played either a pos­i­tive or a neg­a­tive role.

EU Involvement in Balkans, Turkey, Still Stagnant

Fol­low­ing his trip in the neigh­bour­ing Balkan coun­tries, the Greek Min­is­ter of For­eign Affairs has reaf­firmed that he envis­ages Greece as an ele­ment of sta­bil­i­ty in the Balkan area, so as to cre­ate an ‘inter­nal Balkan space’ and encour­age the course of these coun­tries towards Euro­pean inte­gra­tion, to ensure sus­tain­able devel­op­ment in the region.

How­ev­er, the enlarge­ment towards the East­ern Balka­ns and Turkey lies in the cen­tre of pre­oc­cu­pa­tions of the government’s pol­i­cy, of the media, and of the cit­i­zens at large. There are three con­cerns asso­ci­at­ed with Greece’s pre­oc­cu­pa­tions in the area: regard­ing Turkey, the For­mer Yugoslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia, and Cyprus.

With regards to Turkey, fre­quent vio­la­tions of the Greek air space main­tain a con­tin­u­ous ten­sion between the two neigh­bour­ing (and NATO-allied) coun­tries. Addi­tion­al­ly, Turkey’s unwill­ing­ness to coop­er­ate in curb­ing the flows of irreg­u­lar migrants towards the Greek shores cre­ates addi­tion­al hard feel­ings, quite counter-pro­duc­tive­ly, as Greeks are basi­cal­ly in favour of Turkey’s Euro­pean Union mem­ber­ship per­spec­tive. Fur­ther­more, the delim­i­ta­tion of the con­ti­nen­tal shelf between the two coun­tries has been a major issue in the pre-elec­toral debate with regards to the growth poten­tials of the Greek econ­o­my in the Mediterranean.

The rela­tions between the two coun­tries were fur­ther aggra­vat­ed fol­low­ing the uni­lat­er­al Notice to Air­men (NOTAm) issued by the Turk­ish author­i­ties to reserve exten­sive Greek air­space dur­ing six months, for the pur­pose of mil­i­tary exer­cis­es, includ­ing fir­ing ammu­ni­tion over the Aegean Sea, a move­ment which was deemed as a seri­ous provo­ca­tion to Greece’s ter­ri­to­r­i­al sovereignty.

The prob­lems of Turk­ish occu­pa­tion and the reuni­fi­ca­tion of Cyprus seem to rest on a pos­i­tive con­junc­ture after the elec­tion of Moustafa Akin­ji as the Pres­i­dent of the Turk­ish Com­mu­ni­ty on the island. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the hard­en­ing of the posi­tion of Turk­ish Pres­i­dent Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the ambi­ent nation­al­ism of the Greek com­mu­ni­ty of Cyprus do not leave much mar­gin for mutu­al­ly ben­e­fi­cial solu­tions. How­ev­er, a win­dow is now open to the future.

Regard­ing the For­mer Yugoslav Repub­lic of Mace­do­nia (FYROM), the poten­tial of find­ing a solu­tion to that country’s denom­i­na­tion seems to be com­pli­cat­ed by the recent polit­i­cal cri­sis linked with its Alban­ian minor­i­ty. Provoca­tive asser­tions on the part of high-rank­ing offi­cials of FYROM have dis­cour­aged the cli­mate of mutu­al trust between the parties.

This EU-28 Watch is part of the a project called ‘East­ern Neigh­bours and Rus­sia: Close links with EU cit­i­zens’ (ENURC) in col­lab­o­ra­tion with TEPSA (Trans Euro­pean Pol­i­cy Stud­ies Asso­ci­a­tion). The project focus­es on devel­op­ing EU cit­i­zens’ under­stand­ing of the top­ic of the East­ern Neigh­bour­hood and Rus­sia and aims at encour­ag­ing their inter­est and involve­ment in this pol­i­cy which has an impact on their dai­ly lives.

The EU-28 Watch project is map­ping out the dis­cours­es on these issues in Euro­pean poli­cies all over Europe. Research insti­tutes from all 28 mem­ber states are invit­ed to give overviews on the dis­cours­es in their respec­tive countries.

This sur­vey was con­duct­ed on the basis of a ques­tion­naire that has been elab­o­rat­ed in March 2015. Most of the reports were deliv­ered in June 2015. This issue and all pre­vi­ous issues are avail­able on the recent­ly relaunched EU-28 Watch web­site:

The EU-28 Watch No. 11 receives sig­nif­i­cant fund­ing from the Otto Wolff-Foun­da­tion, Cologne, in the frame­work of the ‘Dia­log Europa der Otto Wolff-Stiftung’, and finan­cial sup­port from the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is not respon­si­ble for any use that may be made of the infor­ma­tion con­tained therein.