Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias visited Western Balkan countries; Albania, Skopje, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro and Kosovo in June. After the extensive visit, Dendias announced that it has appointed Sofia Grammata, the country’s Ambassador to Bucharest, as Greece’s Special Representative for the Western Balkans. The appointment of special representatives by Greece to the Western Balkans after countries such as the United States of America (USA), England, Germany and finally France was considered as a remarkable development. Greek Prime Minister Kiryakos Mitsotakis also announced in recent weeks that Greece has made a “dynamic turn” towards the Western Balkans. In this context, Ankara Center for Crisis and Policy Studies (ANKASAM) presents to your attention the views it received from Assoc. Dr. Nikolaos Tzifakis, Political Science and International Relations Department Lecturer at the Mora University in order to evaluate Greece’s Western Balkans policy.
- Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said that Greece is making a ‘dynamic return’ to the Western Balkans. Why did Greece turn to the Balkans?
Greece is compelled by geography and history to constantly show active interest in Western Balkan affairs. It borders with Albania and North Macedonia and it maintains very strong political and economic links with Serbia as well. The Western Balkans has traditionally attracted important Greek FDI, while northern Greece is the preferred tourist destination of many people from the region. In this respect, there is nothing strange about Greece’s engagement with the region. Actually, what has been peculiar in the recent past, it was Greece’s neglect of the Western Balkans during the time of the economic crisis.
- How do you evaluate Greece’s foreign policy on Balkan countries?
Athens has tried to overcome differences and foster relations with its northern neighbors during the last five years. The Prespa Agreement has enabled the spectacular improvement of Athens-Skopje relations, while the Greek-Albanian relations have been constantly improving since October 2020 when the two countries agreed to refer the delimitation of their common sea borders to the International Court of Justice. Athens has also sought to substantially grow its economic ties with Pristina (despite its policy of non-recognition of Kosovo statehood), without putting in jeopardy its traditionally good relations with Belgrade.
Having said that, there is still much underexploited potential in Greece’s relations with the region. For instance, Greece has not concluded yet agreements for the avoidance of double taxation with all Western Balkan countries. Athens has also not found practical ways to facilitate the everyday activity of the Greek and Kosovo business communities in the context marked by the lack of full diplomatic relations between the two countries.
- After countries such as the USA, Great Britain, Germany and finally France, Greece also appointed a special representative to the Western Balkans. What does it mean?
The appointment of a Special Envoy serves two purposes. Symbolically, it manifests Greece’s willingness to participate actively in the management of the region’s problems and challenges. At a more practical level, it signifies the intention of the Greek Ministry of Foreign Affairs to follow closely regional developments and maintain a constant presence in the Western Balkans that goes beyond the political leadership’s own visits to the region.
- Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in the EU-Western Balkans Summit that Greece supports the Western Balkans in their quest to become members of the European Union. What do you think about it?
The Greek Prime Minister recently argued that the EU should enhance its efforts to support the full EU integration of the Western Balkans within a decade, by 2033. To be sure, there is nothing particular about that year, beyond that it will mark three decades since the Thessaloniki Summit. What Mr. Mitsotakis has tried to accomplish in this way, it was to urge the rest of the EU countries to eventually prioritize the region’s EU accession. The efficiency of Greece’s advocacy for the Western Balkans would probably increase if such initiatives are undertaken in coordination with other EU countries that have similar concerns about the region such as Austria and Slovenia.