OP/ED: The prospect of Greece as a “soft power” in the Balkan Peninsula

OP/ED: The prospect of Greece as a “soft power” in the Balkan Peninsula

By Ioannis Brachos

At the first press conference in Brussels, the President of the European Commission stated that she would lead the most “geopolitical European Commission”, even condemning Finland and France for their lack of ambition in border security and the enlargement of the Western Balkans. And rightly so: Europeans will not believe in Europe, as long as the EU is not in a position to make its voice heard on the international stage, whether it is about climate, migration, or peace and stability.

However, recent developments in EU relations with Moscow, Ankara, Kiev and developments in Palestine have left Brussels and European capitals with the worrying sense that the “geopolitical European Commission” is merely a slogan and renaming of Juncker’s “Politics Commission”.

In order for the European Commission to fulfill its ambition, it is obliged to seek close cooperation with the other EU institutions and with important capitals, which, due to their history and experience, they are often better able to intervene in areas of the planet.

The result of this reality is informal variable geometry in EU geopolitical intervention, where Member States with historical presence and experience in regions have, in fact, a more important role to play in shaping the European Commission’s geopolitical agenda.

The Nord Stream is an excellent example of the disagreement in the rhetoric and action of the Member States, undermining not only the Green Pact but also the EU energy security, the common position for Russia and Ukraine. From stabilization efforts in the Sahel to EU-China and Indo-Pacific relations, areas for achieving effective EU unity of action remain in search.

The EU seems to expect the US to design its security and defense policy on its behalf. This option constitutes an inability of the EU to intervene at geopolitical level. The EU must continue to take new security and defense initiatives in a spirit of complementarity with NATO. The European Commission is called upon to play an important role in this effort.

In the modern geopolitical scene, rivalries and alliances often crystallize in trade, economics and technology. The same has to be done and the EU foreign policy. In this light, the European Commission ‘s initiatives in Euro – Turkish relations and the Western Balkans as a common EU component determine the course of bilateral relations in the region.

The EU emphasizes the exercise of foreign policy as a “soft power”, in the Western Balkans and in Euro-Turkish relations, Greece has the potential to become an exponent of this “soft power” in the region.

It is widely believed that Greece’s economic relations are determined by the EU, while geopolitical developments in the region by the US. This theoretical scheme in the current period is insufficient to upgrade foreign policy, as there is a risk of leading it to autopilot.

Alliances are important, but in modern times specific initiatives are needed in order for Greece to actively participate in the emerging European consensus in the Balkans.

In this context, economic, cultural and public diplomacy initiatives in the Western Balkans and bilaterally with Turkey are of paramount importance, highlighting Greece as a “mild European power” in the region. Examples of actions are humanitarian and development cooperation, green and digital transitions and technological cooperation through innovation hubs in the region.

The public references of th government to the return of the country to the Balkans, following the Prime Minister’s meetings on the sidelines of the Delphi Forum, are a good start, but the term “neighboring country” only causes hilarity in the Western Balkans.

For communication reasons, government-friendly media systematically announce the collapse of the Turkish economy, while they are aware of the economic impact in Greece from a possible bankruptcy of the Turkish economy. Both the EU and strong European countries with significant investments in Turkey are given the support of the Turkish economy.

The government’s communication choices for internal political reasons undermine the country’s ability to intervene in European policy-making in the Western Balkans and in Euro-Turkish relations.

Political consensus on foreign affairs must go beyond the high level consensus and be reflected in specific policy actions.

In this sense, a change of culture is required in our foreign policy, in order for the country to emerge as a leader “soft power” in the region, implementing European and national policy./ibna

* Ioannis Brachos is an Economist (MSc, PhD Econ) – former Secretary General of International Economic Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The views are strictly personal.