In recent months the sharp intensification of illegal immigration from Turkey, which has seen refugees and migrants heading through the Balkans and the EU via the maritime Greek-Turkish border, along with the already acute situation in the waters between Italy and Libya, has fully revealed the political vacuum characterizing European Union member-states' relations in terms of planning and cooperation. This gap has been expressed mainly by the negligence of Brussels in recent months to take adequate and coordinated action in guarding its external borders. It still has not been addressed effectively.
The result of this neglect by Greece's EU partners was the dangerous exposure of a country in bankruptcy, fighting a colossal immigration problem, which is not national but European. At the same time Greece's exposure was also geopolitical as the issue of migration in the Aegean touches upon Greek-Turkish tensions due to unjustified Turkish demands in the region.
Given the circumstances, has Greece pursued a pragmatic policy in the context of human rights, welcoming immigrants and proceeding to their identification. At the same time, the Greek population has demonstrated a high level of humanity of European standards, a level which exceeded that of other European states with better fiscal indicators.
Unfortunately the constructive Greek attitude has not been sufficiently acknowledged by the EU. It was instead acknowledged only in some cases by international actors, intellectuals and artists. As if that were not enough, a number of conniving statements have been made by EU officials and leaders of Central European and Balkan countries on Athens's allegedly inadequate guarding of the Greek borders. Then the abolition of Schengen ensued with barriers raised by the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Hungary, Denmark, Sweden and others destroying the notion of European solidarity. However, they cannot and must not succeed.
The anti-Greece Austrian policy in the Balkans overlooks the fragile geopolitical reality in the Aegean and demands actions that are not feasible. It is perhaps the lack of experience of the young Austrian foreign minister that defines the lack of realism in Austrian foreign policy toward Greece. Such an approach by Vienna is unfortunate, creating a negative Greek public view toward Austria and undermining bilateral relations.
EU officials' recent statements about the prospect of the formal replacement of the Dublin III Regulation could be a hopeful sign of European solidarity toward Greece and Italy, since the primary responsibility for the treatment of illegal immigrants is undertaken by the country-destinations of the developed European north and not the transit countries of the economically problematic south.
If Europe does not share the Greek perspective in the Aegean, then NATO will fill the gap created by the lack of EU political unity and solidarity in the Aegean. The recent announcement of NATO involvement needs to address first the link between immigration and Greek-Turkish relations, and especially the reasons that Athens does not want indirect condominium at sea, i.e. any change in the geopolitical balance in the region. If Europe misses the opportunity to express genuine solidarity with Greece, then a new picture will be formed in the region, a picture of chaos and instability not only in Greece but throughout the Balkans. Such a scenario could be averted through the revision of the European strategy on safeguarding the EU's external borders. For Athens, it's time to move toward new creative paths of geopolitical contemplation in the Mediterranean context, including the formation of a substantial Greek-Italian alliance within the context of the EU.
* Dr Evangelos Venetis is a specialist in refugee and migration studies. The coordinator of the Middle East Research Project of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) recently joined the Refugee Studies Program at the Stavros Niarchos Center for Hellenic Studies, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver.