The countdown has begun for the resumption of exploratory contacts between Greece and Turkey, with the 61st round set to take place in Istanbul on January 25, as announced on Monday night.
However, almost five years after the previous round of exploratory contacts, Athens does not know exactly what to expect, given all that has ensued since the coup attempt against Recep Tayyip Erdogan back in 2016 and the clearly nationalist turn Ankara has taken since then.
In addition, it is also clear in Athens that much of what is being discussed in public is driven more by the intent to create impressions, such as the proposal that Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama serve as a mediator and that the meeting of the two foreign ministers Nikos Dendias and Mevlut Cavusoglu take place in Tirana, which is something the Greek side apparently does not accept.
The exploratory contacts are, by default, difficult, bearing in mind that from 2002 to 2016 about 5,000 pages of minutes were produced with the main topic of discussions being an agreement on the demarcation of territorial waters, which at some point came close to a settlement.
The Greek side has stated that it does not intend to discuss anything else apart from issues concerning the maritime zones (territorial waters, continental shelf, exclusive economic zone). For their part, the Turks, at least publicly, are raising a number of issues, most notably the demilitarization of the islands and the sovereignty of some islands.
Even if, hypothetically, the Turkish side does raise these issues, as in the past, then the Greeks will simply not discuss them.
In any case, the first meeting is expected to have a reconnaissance nature, as the Greek delegates will seek to understand what the political mandates of their Turkish counterpart will be and what sort of margins these discussions will have.
The importance of the resumption of these contacts was stressed by the European Commission’s lead spokesperson for foreign affairs, Peter Stano, who stressed on Monday that the de-escalation and normalization of Greek-Turkish relations is a very important part of wider Euro-Turkish relations, as issues that affect Turkey’s relations with any member-state of the Union are issues concerning the whole EU.