A test for European solidarity

One of the main reasons why the late Constantine Karamanlis insisted on Greece becoming a member of the European Community, the predecessor to the European Union, was that he saw a need to put the country under a broader security umbrella. It was about more than consolidating Greece’s democratic institutions; it also allowed the country to be more firmly anchored in the western camp, a key step following the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. Since joining the community, Greece has never really ever needed the help of the EU, or its most powerful governments, to tackle any hostile incidents with Turkey. Both in the 1987 crisis and the 1996 Imia dispute, it was the United States and NATO that stepped in to prevent an all-out conflict. Nevertheless, Greece’s accession to the EU and the eurozone has strengthened the country’s profile. It’s one thing to speak as a candidate of the EU and quite another as a nation that belongs to the European core.

The average Greek is well aware of this. One of the main reasons why the Greek public did not turn against the euro was the fear of geopolitical isolation in case of a euro exit. Even now, the average Greek feels that identifying with Europe helps stabilize the country and gives it more clout on a geopolitical level.

But things are changing. Washington is slowly withdrawing from the region and NATO’s presence has diminished. The question is: what would happen in the case of a serious engagement with Turkey over the Aegean Sea or Cyprus? So far, all we have are some vague statements by EU leaders like French President Francois Hollande. Prime Minister Antonis Samaras has obviously assessed the weight of these reassurances and would not take any initiative regarding the delineation of Greece’s exclusive economic zone without being certain of what Europe’s reaction would be in case of a hostile incident.

Some may claim that German Chancellor Angela Merkel does not have the best of relationships with Turkey and would offer Greece a helping hand in case of such an emergency. Others would rather place their money on Greece’s alliance with France. Either way, other interests would come into play here, such as the impact on Airbus sales to Turkey for example.

Greece’s position is obviously weaker, but there are no signs so far that this is something Turkey wishes to exploit. But even if it were to do so, the stance of the EU, and particularly of Germany and France, would have a significant effect on Greek sensibilities. Should the European security umbrella prove to be an illusion, Greeks would feel deeply betrayed.

The truth is that Greece has no other obvious geopolitical allies to turn to and only an extreme scenario would test the pledges of European solidarity.