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Changing the attitude will enhance Greece’s foreign policy

21 February 2011 / 20:02:54  GRReporter
8331 reads

Victoria Mindova

Radical change in Greece’s foreign policy is not imperative, but it still needs to be brought  up-to-date if the government is willing to succeed on the international stage. This is the conclusion of the debate on "Does the Greek foreign policy need a reorientation," organized by the Hellenic Foundation for Foreign and Defense Policy. The world is changing very quickly and state leaders have to take new actions to protect the interests of their countries in the long term. Participants agreed that Greece within the European Union is the right move and it is out of consideration, but it should change its attitude to the outside world.

The discussion was opened by Hrisantos Lazaridis – economist and close associate of New Democracy leader Antonis Samaras. Hrisantos Lazaridis argues that Greece should change its foreign policy course, because it has not adequately defended national interests so far. "We need to change and learn to not take so easily what we have been offered." However, he is clear that some constants in foreign policy should be kept in order not to turn reorientation into loss of orientation.  

The first constant that should be kept is that Greece is a western type country, mostly European, part of the European Union and the euro zone. The second constant but not least is that the national interest of Greece is to keep and strengthen the peace and good relations both in the region and in Europe. However, state leaders should change the way they respond to certain challenges. The second supporter of the idea that changes are needed, the journalist Stavros Ligeros, says: "Of course, we will reject a proposal if it is unacceptable when we are on the table of negotiations. This does not mean that we are not open to discuss the matters."

Hrisantos Lazaridis emphasizes that a good politician is the one who looks into the future, not the one who is interested only in the present. Greece should gain stronger position on important issues by playing more significant role on the foreign policy stage. Attitude, views need to be changed to achieve this and foresight is necessary too. "If we want to be taken seriously, we have to have something to offer," says the economist and Greece is not in that position now. So, a change is needed.

Among the proponents of the idea that Greek foreign policy does not need to change its course is the professor of European Integration at the University of Athens Panagiotis Yoakimidis, who explaines that most of the country's foreign policy fits in the established foreign policy of the European Union. The policy course is within the frameworks of the constants outlined by his opponent Hrisantios Lazaridis. To prove his point, Yoakimidis defines the word "reorientation" - change of course, acceptance of new targets, taking a new direction. The direction is Europe and this will not change, he says. "This does not mean that we should not take corrective actions that will improve the position of Greece."

Panagiotis Yoakimidis indicates five points of change that will help Greece play more significant role in the region. "First, we must change the way we look on problems." He says that Greece prefers to put off foreign policy issues instead of solving them. Consensus should be sought not at all costs but by compromising to a certain extent. Foreign policy is coordinated largely by particular laws, but by diplomacy too. "If laws were the only variable for keeping foreign policy, the foreign ministries had to be just some law firms. But this is not the case and more flexibility is needed," explains the professor.

Foreign policy in Greece is largely burdened by historical problems and this should also change. "We must go out of narrow historicism at some point." One can not make foreign policy while stuck to the past. This does not mean that we should not have deep knowledge of history but that people should learn from it. The other supporter of the idea of keeping today's foreign policy course – the independent deputy Todoros Skiliakakis – says: "It is important to know not only our history but to know the history of the other country in depth in order to make proper and effective foreign policy."

Panagiotis Yoakimidis is clear that Greece should finally come out of the field of high policy and refocus on every day policy like economic diplomacy and trade policy. He stressed that politicians and diplomats should come down to earth and get down to the real needs of the country so that foreign policy delivers concrete results and improves the country's position internationally. Fifthly, the professor of European Integration says: "We should finally get rid of this permanent outside threat psychosis. The inside threat is much greater. Because if we have to asses things without prejudice, our national policy brought us to the situation in which we are today."

"Europe does not allow us to take all decisions," says the journalist Stavros Ligeros. According to him, the presence of the European Union in addressing important national interests of Greece is modest, to put it mildly. Therefore, the country itself should defend its positions on issues that directly affect it. Ligeros argues that problems in the Aegean Sea and the arrival of a Turkish ship in Greek waters is not provoked by the desire to seize several islands but by the geopolitical position of Greece in the Mediterranean region. He is shocked by the fact that Greece and Turkey negotiate on various issues, but do not discuss the problems of the so-called "gray zones" - the sea border and the Cyprus issue. According to him, this behaviour is a weakness in the Greek foreign policy and he believes that Turkey's ambitions are much bigger than what appears on the surface.

Tags: DiplomacyForeign policyNational interestsEuropean UnionNational policy
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