Every country needs to pursue a staunch foreign policy line and Greece’s major strategic threat is Turkey. Turkey is, and should be, Athens’s top priority. Other foreign policy issues, such as the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) or Greek-Albanian ties, are of course important, but they are not issues to top the agenda.
Greece has a certain amount of political capital on the international stage, and the leadership in Athens must make sure it spends it where it counts. When too many fronts are open, it’s very hard to convince the other side to focus where it matters most.
The coming months will be crucial with regard to the Balkan aspect of Athens’s foreign policy. The new government in Skopje has changed its rhetoric and appears ready to adopt confidence-building measures and, perhaps, a pragmatic compromise on the name dispute. Athens has a strong bargaining chip in FYROM’s EU ambitions and could push for a comprehensive settlement that would safeguard Greece’s vital interests.
With respect to Albania, it seems that, despite some unwise and provocative gestures made by Tirana, there is indeed common ground for reaching solutions to problems that have been around for decades. Neither the Skopje dispute, nor talks with Albania will be easy to handle. Good intentions often evaporate against the political reality of the Balkans.
That said, it’s time to finally decide what we want. Some want to keep certain issues open and hide behind maximalist claims. Greece will gain nothing this way. Athens has already wasted too much diplomatic capital in the Balkans because of the FYROM standoff, an issue that could have been settled years ago and under better terms. But it has painted itself into a corner, which is very dangerous in foreign policy.
Athens will have the opportunity in the coming months to ascertain whether the new leadership in Skopje really wants an honest solution to the name dispute or whether it is simply engaging in PR stunts in a bid to mislead Athens. The same applies to Albania.
It would be very bad if these issues were to become the subject of political confrontation at home. We have paid a heavy price for this in the past, as each party tried to present a hardline profile, but was willing to sign up to a deal behind closed doors.
Turkey is becoming increasingly hard to predict and comprehend and the strategic asymmetry between the two Aegean neighbors is growing. Athens will need clear thinking and a good plan to deal with this challenge in the years to come.