When in February 2015, a few days after SYRIZA’s ascension to power, Foreign Minister at the time, Nikos Kotzias, to a question if there was a plan for Greece’s foreign policy in the Balkans, he responded with one word: “patience”.
Two months later, in April, at a meeting in New York that lasted more than an hour with Bulgarian Foreign Minister at the time, Daniel Mitov, he was launching a strategic co-operation relationship between Greece and Bulgaria that changed the situation in the Balkans.
While Alexis Tsipras’ administration at the time was focused on the negotiations with the institutions, Kotzias began his first tour of the Balkans. He establishes CBMs with the then fYROMacedonia, starts a debate with Albania on resolving the two countries’ disputes, re-energizes relations with Serbia, undertakes co-operation initiatives, such as the tetramer partnerships of Greece, Albania, North Macedonia and Bulgaria, Greece-Bulgaria-Romania-Croatia and Greece-Bulgaria-Romania-Serbia at the highest level.
In addition, Greece plays an active and leading role in the European course of the Western Balkan countries, making it the strategic partner of the entire Balkan countries, largely replacing Turkey, despite its scarce financial resources.
When Alexis Tsipras was elected Prime Minister of Greece, apart from the leaders of the European countries of Croatia and Slovenia who belonged to the German chariot and did not see eye to eye with the new government, Borissov, Vucic and Rama also made negative and derogative remarks for the new Prime Minister. This, of course, did not prevent the then government and former Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias from overcoming these viewpoints and forge strong links with the former accusers of the government, to the benefit of Greek foreign policy, creating a secure and stable environment for the country.
But what is happening lately in the Balkans and has led Greece to lose its foothold in the region?
First of all, there is no specific plan for Greece’s co-operation with the Balkan countries, as the personal relations of Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ close core executives determines the foreign policy of the government.
While a country’s policies have a continuity, the previously mentioned multilateral co-operations in the Balkans have been “frozen” and any synergies have either withered or stopped.
In addition, the gap left by the withdrawal of the Greek diplomacy from the Balkans is attempted to be filled by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, with the mini-Schengen initiative, and on the other hand by Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, who is claiming a leading role by forming bilateral relations with all players in the region.
The alliances that had been formed in previous years are starting to wither dangerously, and Turkish penetration is reawakening for those who know the true dimensions of what is happening in the region.
Russia, China and Turkey are known to be eyeing the Balkans, while the European Union has engaged in a catastrophic introversion for itself and the region.
On the other hand, Greece, instead of dealing with its region, the Balkans, follows the old broken and failed policy of inertia and one-dimensional foreign policy.
The changes are rapid and the messages lately have not been encouraging for Greece. It is up to the government to decide exactly what it wants and make it happen. The European Union is one thing, but the Balkan region is Greece’s neighborhood./ibna