January 30, 2015
On Monday January 26 the European Council released the Statement of the Heads of States or Governments pointing out the growing concern on political and military developments in Ukraine. In the Statement the Council also underlined that the EU should consider taking and implementing new sanctions against Russia if it considers it appropriate. While such statements are common for similar cases in the past, the reaction of the newly elected government of Syriza in Greece was truly unexpected.
The Greek government objected to the statement stressing out two facts that cannot be missed: the first is that the Council did not have the firm consent of the Greek government to do so, as nobody from the Greek side was officially contacted; the second is even more important, unveiling how such non-binding statements work and affect geopolitical balances in the EU, depicting certain concerns from the member-states. If the Greek government were indifferent on that statement there would be no discussion, and therefore the European citizens could not understand how EU foreign policy works.
In the recent past we have written about the institutional incapacity of the EU in the field of foreign policy, highlighting that the current structure of the decision-making process is not balanced, not to say that it favors only the most influential member-states, like Germany, France, Italy or the United Kingdom.
From a similar perspective, the debate over whether or not Greece winks on Russia for any reason is also literally nonsense. Every member-state has the freedom and capacity to develop its foreign policy in a manner that preserves its own interests, domestic and international. The Greek agricultural sector has suffered a lot since the embargo from the Russian government on EU exports. Therefore, the objection of the government aligns with a great part of its productive workforce, satisfying a growing domestic and European demand for a different policy over Russia.
In addition to that, we need to stress out that any detour from a certain political decision inside the EU cannot be in conflict with the special interest of a certain member-state, especially when the institutional-building has so many operational gaps. From this very point, what the Greek government could further achieve is to broaden the discussion on the current foreign policy model of the EU rather than being accused for turned pro-Russian.
Moreover, one of the long-debating topics in the EU is the predicament over whether a certain political decision has to be followed by all member-states, and if not, on what ground a member-state or a group of member-states decides to decline. Greece has historical ties with Russia, but Greece belongs to the EU and abides by its mechanisms, rules, and decisions. Especially when this is well-argued, the first should not contradict the latter. In this respect, it is paradoxical that other member-states with even bigger trade exposure to Russia -thus being more affected by the embargo- like Poland, France, or Spain, decided to silence and to keep supporting a devastating stance against Russia.
We need to repeat here, in every possible tone, that Greece is one of the oldest and most pro-European member-states, despite the continuous economic anomaly and the deep suffering of the Greek people these last six years. But at the same time, Greece is not obliged to shut doors with Russia due to various geopolitical, commercial, economic, religious, and political reasons. Objecting to this statement does not mean objecting to the EU Common Foreign Policy and Security nor to the EU itself. Greece is not turning its back to the EU, and EU leaders and media that still bidding on such rumors to create panic in the markets or the public, should stop doing so.
From another angle, the EU should realize that a good and prosperous partnership with Russia is of mutual benefit. We also need to remind here that unlike EU, Russia never interfered in EU “domestic” issues. For Russia and the Kremlin, Ukraine is considered as one of the major pillars of its influence in Eastern Europe. What EU seems not to realize, is that it has already mounting problems to manage itself, mainly on the economic side, a fact that does not leave space for frivolous strategies in foreign policy.
And something last. EU and Russia have a common threat: the Islamic State and the expansion of fundamentalism globally. Both sides should cooperate closely on security policy and lower the chances for terrorist acts in Europe and Russia, while breaking down the growing religious hatred and animosity. But all these start from the trade and financial normalization between EU and Russia.
To contact the author Dimitris Rapidis:
Twitter: @rapidisDimitris Rapidis