The political landscape in Libya has changed. An effort is underway to normalize domestic politics and restore relations abroad. Greece, as a neighboring country, has every reason to be interested in Libya, and the right to have a say.
The Greek prime minister is going to Tripoli on Tuesday, accompanied by the foreign minister, with the aim of restarting relations with Libya. The first step, symbolic and substantive, is the reopening of the Greek Embassy in Tripoli, which, in combination with the re-establishment of the Consulate General in Benghazi, will facilitate the gradual implementation of the rapprochement and the development of bilateral cooperation, mainly in energy and construction, but also in other areas.
Obviously, Greece supports the new Libyan government and looks forward to good neighborly relations.
International politics is driven by realism. When one makes mistakes, one needs to recognize them quickly and take corrective action. In this light, Greece’s rather hasty decision to expel the Libyan ambassador and current interim presidency council head, Mohammed al-Menfi, after the signing of the Turkish-Libyan memorandum, and the excessive support given to with General Khalifa Haftar, are seen as a thing of the past. It should not be an obstacle to building a new mutually beneficial relationship between the two neighboring countries.
In the same context, no-one can ignore the fact that the previous government of Fayez al-Sarraj was fully aligned with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and took some major actions that were not friendly to Athens. But one has to look to the future. Turkish influence has not disappeared, as confirmed by the recent visits to Ankara of the country’s interim president as well as of the prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh.
In this difficult environment, the strategic goal for Greece, which is not easily achievable, remains the end of the illegal Turkish-Libyan memorandum. At the same time, it is clear that all foreign forces and mercenaries must leave the country. This was also requested by the foreign ministers of three European countries – Germany, France and Italy – during their recent visit to Tripoli. They, however, did not address the issue that concerns Greece the most, the Sarraj-Erdogan memorandum.
As was the case with the Berlin International Conference on Libya, the Europeans again have left Greece “out.” The trade interests of some important countries are understandable, but geography de facto makes Greece a country with direct interest in developments in Libya, while Turkey’s aggressive violation of the sovereign rights of a member-state of the Union should not leave the latter’s partners indifferent.
In any case, Greece wants good neighborly relations with Libya, which obviously should be based on international law. Such a positive development will not only facilitate the building of bilateral cooperation. It will also allow Greece to use its role as an equal member of the EU to work for the development of closer trade relations between Brussels and Tripoli.
As the people in power in Tripoli take into account all the parameters of this complex equation, they will realize that it does not serve their country’s interests to alienate Greece. In this context, it would be wise to avoid the activation of the illegal Sarraj-Erdogan memorandum and consider resuming the dialogue with Athens on the demarcation of the maritime zones between the two countries, which was interrupted a decade ago.
Understandably, Libya’s transitional government cannot take major decisions. Still, Tuesday’s visit offers an opportunity for a new beginning towards improved relations with an important European neighbor.