Events

Greece's New Foreign Policy: Papandreou's Agenda in Turkey, Cyprus and the Balkans

October 29, 2009 // 10:00am11:30am

The recent elections in Greece, which brought George Papandreou's Pan Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) back into power, will likely entail a major shift in the country's foreign policy strategy. Athens will likely strive to ensure that significant regional issues remain on the international agenda, especially for the EU. After what he described as an "uneasy period" in the U.S.-Greek relationship, Tziampiris suggested that this shift could mean good news for Washington. He argued that the internal political dynamics within Greece and the new external environment have created a "perfect storm" that might allow for the resolution of outstanding foreign policy issues related to Turkey, Cyprus, and Macedonia by December 2009.

Tziampiris emphasized the recent proposal by Prime Minister Papandreou to integrate Western Balkan countries into the European Union by 2014. While he views this as an ambitious goal, Tziampiris interpreted this proposal as a signal that Greek foreign policy will be far more activist and consequential in the Western Balkans than heretofore. Papandreou's foreign policy team plans to refine and update the 2003 Thessaloniki Declaration (developed when Greece held the EU presidency and Papandreou served as foreign minister) which stated that "the future of the Western Balkans is within the EU."

On Macedonia, Tziampiris is optimistic that at this early stage of the PASOK government a unique opportunity exists to settle the name dispute. He observed that for the last few years, Greece has been moving towards a more moderate stance on the issue by agreeing in principle to a compound name for its neighbor that would include "Macedonia" as a geographical reference. This would preclude either side from monopolizing the name. So far Papandreou has agreement from all but one of the major political parties in Greece to support this position (the sole outlier is the far-right Popular Orthodox Rally).

The resolution of the issue is not up to Greece alone: Tziampiris expressed concern that Skopje's insistence on distorting history in an effort to lay claim to the name could potentially derail negotiations once again. But internal divisions may be helping to move the country in the direction of a settlement. According to Tziampiris, 65% of the Albanian minority is in favor of a compromise on the name, while 95% of Slav-Macedonians are opposed. Teuta Arifi, vice president of the ruling Albanian coalition party (DUI), said in June 2009 that, "unless the dispute is resolved and Macedonia enters NATO by the end of the year, Albanians should re-examine their options."

Settling the name issue sooner rather than later, Tziampiris argued, would not only help Macedonia move towards European integration but would also contribute to its internal political stability. These factors, when combined with the fact that the next elections in Greece and Macedonia are years away, create a situation in which – with some well-targeted pressure by the international community – there is a chance that a decision could be reached as early as the beginning of December.

On Turkey, Tziampiris pointed out that the official position of Greece has always been to support Turkey's full membership in the EU. He stressed that Greece is generally opposed to any kind of privileged partnership short of membership, since it would seem to offer some of the privileges of accession before conditions are met. Privileged membership is viewed by the Greek government as a recipe for disaster, especially since it would create a bad precedent for other countries in the region, especially in the Western Balkans.

Turkey's path to the EU has clear implications for reaching a resolution on Cyprus. Tziampiris considers Turkey's position of ignoring the EU's Customs Union Protocol in regard to Cyprus as untenable, warning that it could lead to another postponement of Turkey's accession negotiations when the issue comes up at the EU Summit in December. Since a solution to this longstanding issue does not seem imminent, and in order to avoid a veto by Greece and Cyprus, Tziampiris suggested the idea of a partial fulfillment of the protocol by Turkey. Alternately the EU might consider postponing the decision on opening additional negotiation chapters until the dynamics of this process change. Since coming to power, Tziampiris stressed, Papandreou has been suggesting a possible new "road map" for Turkey that would more directly link the Cyprus issue, bilateral relations with Greece, and Turkey's EU aspirations.

In any case, the intensified negotiations on Cyprus, the EU Council decisions on Turkey and Macedonia in December, along with the changes introduced by the new PASOK government in Greece, will make this region worthy of Washington's attention in the months ahead. According to Tziampiris, this new constellation of events offers the best hope for resolving the region's most difficult issues, perhaps even by the end of this year.

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  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
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