Opinion: Balkan policy on auto pilot

Opinion: Balkan policy on auto pilot

By Giannis Brachos*

On the occasion of the Western Balkans Foreign Ministers meeting in Thessaloniki, the current government seems to continue its predecessors’ initiatives, but without a clear framework and perspective. In the context of strengthening the relations of the Balkan countries, there has been the initiative of cross-border cooperation of the Balkan countries, as well as the cooperation of the EU countries in the region with the EU candidate countries.

The initiatives were initiated by Foreign Minister N. Kotzias and were aimed at deepening the relations of the countries in the region. The debate on foreign policy issues was combined with the development of cooperation between the participating countries in different fields. In the European context, the aim was to establish enhanced co-operation on an equal footing in foreign policy, the economy, natural disasters, culture, etc., by forming informal mechanisms for deepening relations in the region.

This has led to the development of a dialogue forum at the level of Heads of State and Government, broadening the agenda for dialogue. The previous government has highlighted Greece’s role in the region by taking advantage of the momentum of the Prespa Agreements’s success and highlighting the country as an important player in the region. As a result, our country has participated in the Berlin Mechanism for the Western Balkans and other international initiatives in the region.

With the advent of the new government and the reluctance to support the Prespa Agreement for purely internal reasons, Greece’s political initiatives in the region have frozen, limiting our country’s role in hosting meetings with an emphasis on the EU perspective. The meetings of Foreign Ministers of the region and senior officials of the European Commission and the European External Action Service indicate the absence of a diplomatic agenda for the region.

Apart from transforming the essential character of the initiative into a “to know us better” meeting, it is evident that the Greek Foreign Ministry has no strategy and continuity of its policy in the Balkans, depending its initiatives with the political situation and changes in our country. They view the Balkans with their eyes turned internally.

It is typically stated that the entry for the Western Balkans on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs hasn’t been updated since 23/10/2018 and as correctly stated: “In this context, the Balkan regional policy of Greece revolves around the following axes:”. Precisely, the Balkan policy of our country is “revolving” because it is not stable. Content-free meetings are fatal to communication, with no added value in deepening the relations of the Balkan countries, turning meetings into a bureaucratic management belt of the EU.

The creation of a Balkan forum on low-level politics, economic diplomacy involving energy, climate threat, culture, tourism, the emergence of Thessaloniki at the center of discussions on the Balkans, NGO co-operation, etc. have been abandoned. What was left was the per se meeting on the new EU enlargement methodology.

The question posed by the European think tank CEPS on the new methodology for the enlargement of the Western Balkans is crucial. Is the new methodology credible for EU enlargement or is it a pretenses rescue mechanism? The answer is that the European Commission’s proposed revised methodology is good, but inadequate in restoring EU credibility in the region.

According to CEPS, this text appears to be more of a face-saving exercise than a milestone in EU enlargement with the Western Balkans. Much of the new methodology aims to strengthen the EU Member States in the process, without taking into account the role of the citizens of the Western Balkans and their civil society.

If this is the case, Greece should reflect on its role in the Balkans and seek active initiatives in cooperation with EU member states in the region to enhance Balkan co-operation, rather than just awaiting decisions from Brussels, which will be guided by powerful Member States./ibna

*Yannis Brachos, is an Economist, former Secretary General of International Economic Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Greece