Seeking continuity in foreign policy

Safeguards being put in place so that period between elections does not bring upsets in Greek-Turkish ties

Seeking continuity in foreign policy

Significant efforts are under way to ensure that the period of flux between the two expected rounds of voting in Greece’s general elections brings no unpleasant surprises with regard to the easing of tension in Greek-Turkish relations, but also to prepare for any likely upsets from the elections in Turkey.

The main objective of these efforts is to safeguard the continued cooperation between government and other officials who have handled various aspects of the matter over the past few years and to ensure that there is no vacuum. What is certain is that the ministers of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias and Defense Nikos Panagiotopoulos will remain in place until the May 21 election. In the likely event that a government is not formed, Dendias and Panagiotopoulos will be replaced as soon as President Katerina Sakellaropoulou has finished presenting the party leaders with the exploratory mandates to form a government, which should take place on May 23-24.

What is not yet clear is who would replace the two ministers, though there are indications that former military officers with experience and knowledge of the difficulties of the post are being considered for the defense portfolio. Things appear simpler at the Foreign Ministry, where a politician will be picked to hold down the post until the second round, though the presence of ministry officials with excellent knowledge of all the issues in Greek-Turkish relations, such as the ministry’s secretary general, Theocharis Lalakos, ensures that continuity will be maintained.

Certain advisers are expected to stay put at the Maximos Mansion so that the interim prime minister has the help he needs to ensure that the main arm of the government can continue to function smoothly

According to well-informed sources, certain advisers are expected to stay put at the premier’s office in the Maximos Mansion so that the interim prime minister appointed under the Constitution – the president of the Court of Audit, Ioannis Sarmas – has the help he needs to ensure that the main arm of the government can continue to function smoothly. Among those who it is safe to assume will stay are the prime minister’s advisers on diplomatic affairs, Anna Maria Boura, and national security, Thanos Dokos. Nikos Tsafos, his special adviser on energy matters, will definitely be staying put, as will other officials.

The discussion concerning the officials involved in one way or another in the management of Greek-Turkish affairs rests on speculation about what will happen in Turkey. The first round of elections on May 14 and the second on May 28 – a week after Greece’s first round – will likely produce one of two diametrically opposed outcomes, which will mean different things for Greek diplomacy.

In the event that incumbent President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is re-elected, the approach to foreign policy is not expected to change dramatically, regardless of any changes that may take place in the government. This will also allow progress in initiatives that have been set in motion over the past two-and-a-half months between Athens and Ankara and have already contributed to the de-escalation, such as the moratorium on military exercises over the summer and certain contacts at various levels.

In the case that Kemal Kilicdaroglu ascends to the presidency with the support of a motley coalition comprising Kemalists, far-right nationalists and even moderate Islamists, very little can be known of what the approach to the ongoing talks with Athens will be from a new and radically different government.

Seasoned observers note that any analyses based on the stance of the Kemalists in the 1990s and 2000s are bound to fall short, as the Islamic imprint of the last 20 years has left an indelible mark on Turkish society and on the deep state. Furthermore, despite the very deliberate steps taken by Athens to ensure that the summer goes smoothly, there are concerns of a fresh upset in ties. Certain diplomatic circles, in fact, believe that the “window” of opportunity opened up for meaningful negotiations thanks to the recent de-escalation in tension is not going to become the “door” others hope for.

What needs to be secured first and foremost is that the established channels of communication between the two sides (exploratory talks, political dialogue, confidence-building measures, etc) are functioning properly before new ones can be entertained.

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