GIG: With the change of government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has had a strong start. There is renewed protagonism and a mandate focused on economic diplomacy and extroversion, entailing responsibilities previously undertaken by the Ministry of Economic Development. What is the vision behind this change? What does this effectively mean with respect to the role of the ministry and its ability to attract investments?
Dendias: To effectively respond to emerging challenges in this new era that follows Greece’s exit from the crisis, it became evident that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs needed to assume a wider, more modern role. To this end, we shaped a comprehensive strategic plan involving the significant enhancement of economic diplomacy into the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Included was the unification and incorporation of services and personnel that, until recently, were part of other institutions. We are now aiming to strengthen openness, exports, and investments, as well as attract foreign direct investment and promote Greek exports. We also plan, by the end of 2020, to reorganise the institutions involved in promoting economic diplomacy, and enhance their capabilities in order to boost our exports and attract more foreign direct investments.
We want to assist potential investors in overcoming any difficulties they might be faced with so we intend to closely follow the whole process. Moreover, the government is reshaping the entire framework on FDIs by accelerating and simplifying procedures, and by taking necessary legislative initiatives, to unblock major investment plans such as the Hellinikon Project. Overall, this new, comprehensive strategy aims at transforming Greece’s economy, providing potential investors with a safe environment and promoting Greece’s numerous comparative advantages.
GIG: What is the key focus of Greece’s foreign policy under the new government?
Dendias: After a decade of introversion that came part and parcel with the financial crisis, Greece has returned with full confidence to the forefront of the international stage. Today, through our very active diplomacy, we are reinforcing our relations with our closest allies and partners. Through a nexus of tripartite cooperation schemes, with Cyprus on the one hand, and Israel, Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Lebanon, France, and even Italy on the other, we are promoting good neighbouring relations and stability in the region. We are ready to fulfil our role as a pillar of stability and exporter of security, both in our immediate environs as well as in our wider periphery. This in contrast to Turkey’s recent destabilising actions in the region through the signing of the so called MoUs with the GNA government in Tripoli. These so-called memoranda violate international law and the Law of the Sea, and, as such, are null and void and serve close to nothing to bring peace and stability in Libya and in the wider region.
We cannot overlook geography. We are situated in a region beset by chronic conflicts, threats, and escalating illegal conduct that undermines the region’s stability and security and is contrary to the principle of good neighbourly relations. Hence, Greece’s primary foreign policy goal can be no other than to actively contribute to the wider region’s stability. In addition, we aspire to reinforce the European political culture in our neighbourhood based, first and foremost, on the respect of international law, and on the peaceful resolution of disputes through dialogue and a spirit of mutual understanding. On this basis, we stand ready to provide our good services and to promote viable, win-win solutions to the region’s problems.
GIG: In recent years, Greece has given a growing weight to developing ties in the Balkans by increasing diplomatic relations with countries such as Bulgaria, Serbia, and Romania. How do you see this evolving?
Dendias: Greece plays a central, positive role in the Balkans. With our local EU partners, Bulgaria and Romania, we have forged excellent ties and now enjoy unprecedented levels of cooperation. Our countries participate in regional schemes of cooperation to more effectively promote our common interests. We also work closely within the EU framework. In addition, we’ve introduced new formats of cooperation with our non-EU regional partners, such as Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia, in support of not only our region’s overall integration, but also of their Euro-Atlantic aspirations. To this end, I believe we have already proven our ability to demonstrate leadership and to offer expertise or assistance when required. Case in point, Greece undertook a substantial initiative recently to make sure that the European perspective does not wither away for Albania and the Republic of North Macedonia after the recent decisions taken by the European Council. In this regard, we hosted a working breakfast last December, with the participation of the Foreign Ministers of the EU Member States and our colleagues of our two aforementioned northern neighbours. Another initiative will be held on 24 February 2020 when we will be hosting an EU-Balkan countries Summit of Foreign Ministers in Thessaloniki, the same city where in 2003 the EU perspective of the Balkans was set down. Concerning Serbia, a close friend of Greece, we will carry on working together in promoting its European path.
GIG: Ties between Greece and the U.S. are at a high point, as seen by your 2019 diplomatic visit to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and his subsequent visit to Greece. What are the key factors behind this? Which additional areas of cooperation do you foresee between Greece and the US?
Dendias: Greece and the U.S. have always maintained a relationship of close cooperation both bilaterally and within the NATO framework. I would not exaggerate by arguing that today, bilateral relations are at their historic apex. In October 2019 our governments held the second Strategic Dialogue in Athens, which included high-level interagency representation from both countries. Personally, I had the true pleasure of hosting my colleague, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whom I’ve already met three times since the assumption of my duties. This Strategic Dialogue is a testament to our intensive and constructive engagement. It also exemplifies the strength of the bilateral relationship, confirming our mutual desire to deepen cooperation in areas such as defence and security, energy, trade and investment, and ties between our civil societies.
Beyond doubt, the U.S. today acknowledges Greece’s positive role in the wider area and, conversely, we welcome the benefits of an increased American presence in the region. To this end, we also updated the existing bilateral Mutual Defense Cooperation Agreement, which has already been ratified by the Greek parliament, in order to further evolve our multifaceted defence relationship. This enables both sides to address, in a more effective manner, regional and global security challenges. I have to tell you that I took great pleasure in witnessing the almost universal approval this agreement enjoyed across the whole Greek parliamentary spectrum. Indeed, at this moment, our relations on the political level fully reflect the historically strong ties between the Greek and American peoples, as was demonstrated by the recent visit of the Greek Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, to Washington.
GIG: Early moves by the government point towards Greece building upon the so-called 3+1 regional cooperation initiative (Greece, Cyprus, Israel, and the U.S.). What is the basis for this foreign policy approach? How can this contribute to boost stability and common interests?
Dendias: We firmly believe that the 3+1 cooperation initiative is a partnership that can be hugely beneficial for the wider region. The decision of the U.S. to embrace the existing trilateral partnership, which encompasses an ever-increasing number of areas of common interest, will undoubtedly contribute to the promotion of peace, stability, security, and prosperity in the eastern Mediterranean and beyond. I do have to stress here that this scheme is not directed against any actor, as is the case with every other triangular relationship we’ve created with the Republic of Cyprus and our other like-minded regional partners. The common basis of these initiatives is the respect of international law. We like to see it more as creating a front of logic and common sense in the region, rather than a front against any specific country.
GIG: Greece continues to have ongoing tension with Turkey. The Greek military is often on alert in the Aegean Sea. What is Greece’s strategy here?
Dendias: To be precise it is Turkey that, through its aggressive conduct, keeps raising tensions in the whole region. Greece reacts with self-restraint. This is a conscious choice and should not be mistaken for a sign of weakness. Greece has emerged from the economic crisis and wants to help other countries achieve what Greece has already achieved – in other words, participation in the European endeavour and active contribution to regional stability. We’re a stable country – ready to engage constructively with everyone for the benefit of regional stability, development, and prosperity – strictly on the basis of international law and the principle of good neighbourly relations. Turkey, on the other hand, needs to abandon its present mind-set, that of gunboat diplomacy, which was prevalent in the nineteenth century. Neo-Ottoman illusions of grandeur will only serve to hurt Turkey and destabilise the region. I firmly believe that this is the wrong policy choice for Turkey and that it will not deliver any lasting benefits for its people. On the contrary, I believe that a pro-European, peace-loving Turkey would be in the interest not only of its own people but of every country in the region. Greece would be more than willing to play a constructive role to this path, should Turkey choose to follow it.
GIG: New Democracy has been critical of the Prespa Name Agreement in the past. What is the future of the agreement?
Dendias: Prime Minister Mitsotakis has been very clear on the issue of the Prespa Agreement, explaining from the outset that if the agreement got the Hellenic Parliament’s approval, it would have to be implemented. After all, this is also a matter of legality and of state continuity. What matters now is for North Macedonia to fully comply with the commitments that stem from the agreement. Compliance is a requisite for the country’s EU path, which we support, while at the same time making it clear to our northern neighbours that we will not accept any shortcuts or cutting corners. I have to admit that our northern neighbour is making an effort for the implementation of the agreement, which we welcome. We will continue to monitor the situation closely, especially with the upcoming elections.
GIG: Greece’s ties with China have developed considerably. In fact, in 2019, Bank of China announced it would be opening a branch in Greece. Some in Europe are warning against countries getting too heavily involved in Chinese investments. How do you view this? Do you share their concerns?
Dendias: Greece has had long-lasting friendly relations with China and indeed welcomes the increased tempo of our economic cooperation. Still, Chinese investments in Greece amount to less than 1% of total Chinese investment into Europe. Of course we do appreciate the fact that, when others assumed a ‘wait and see’ policy, it was a Chinese company that took the risk of investing in the Port of Piraeus while we were under contractual obligation to privatise.
Greece has undertaken a conscious opening up of its economic relations with China, which include shipping, infrastructure, and the tourism industry, among other things. So, to answer your question, ‘yes’. We are for increased economic cooperation with China always, of course, within the very specific context of the relevant EU legislation.