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Article by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Venizelos in the “Sunday Kathimerini”, on “National consensus and foreign policy”
Never in the course of the past sixty years – since the end of the Civil War – has our country faced a confluence of challenges and problems comparable to that of the past five years.
The Greek crisis that compromised the country’s economy – one of the most important parameters of national power – coincided with:
• The wider crisis of the European Union, not just as an economic crisis, but also as a crisis of political entity, which is fuelling various forms of euroscepticism.
• New, powerful challenges to European security, which has been a Euroatlantic issue not since the Second World War and the start of the Cold War, but since the middle of World War I; that is, for nearly a century.
• The opening of a large range of crises in the EU’s southern and eastern neighbourhoods; crises that perhaps emit more energy, cumulatively, than the breakup of the Soviet Union, the breakup of Yugoslavia, and the Arab Spring.
The strategic priorities of Greek foreign, security and defence policy – in the midst of these often contradictory national, regional and international conditions – were and are:
First, to keep the economic crisis from being converted into leverage for pressuring our country into adapting or backing down on the range of our national issues (Cyprus issue, Greek-Turkish relations in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean, FYROM name issue, and so on).
Second, to formulate a Greek stance on all of the individual regional and international crises that is compatible with the country’s capacity as a member of the EU and NATO, with the need to respect international legality, with our country’s multiple regional identities (Balkan, Mediterranean, Black Sea), and with the country’s traditional and more recent choices regarding the forming of strong strategic partnerships (as with Egypt and Israel), while at the same time shaping, or at least maintaining, the best possible balance of power with regard to the aforementioned national issues.
The experience of the economic crisis that called into question the post-dictatorship polity must not cause us to underestimate that polity’s acquis, which, paradoxically, is not visible to the naked eye: the high degree of consensus that was shaped with regard to the fundamental choices of the country’s foreign policy and its security and defence policy.
Fortunately, despite the fact that the artificial distinction between the so-called pro-memorandum and anti-memorandum forces vitiated the conditions for basic consensus with regard to the national strategic management of the economic crisis and the exiting of the crisis, the formulated framework for consensus on foreign policy – and particularly on the country’s basic positions on the list of national issues – was not impacted catalytically.
In other words, even though the tradition bipolar configuration of the post-dictatorship polity was called into question, the national strategic framework that was shaped gradually over the past forty years – with Konstantinos Karamanlis and Andreas Papandreou as the key authors – was not called into question.
Obviously, there are domestic populist outcries, risible hyper-patriotism, easy stereotypes, conspiracy theories, persecution syndromes, amateurisms and superficialities regarding the provisions of international law and the case law of international judicial organs, shallow readings and ideological treatments of history, misunderstandings and flawed reasoning. All of these can periodically cause political commotion, but they do not impact the country’s political choices.
It really isn’t easy to explain to someone why the country’s stance on the Syrian civil war or the Ukrainian crisis bears on the Cyprus issue or the situation in the Aegean and the Eastern Mediterranean. But as soon as the issue is posed from the point of view of Turkish policy, it becomes much easier to see, for example, the probable interrelation between the international alliance against ISIS and the provocations in the Cypriot EEZ and continental shelf.
Of course, the matter of mindfulness of all the aspects of our national strategy is always a pending issue. In other words, what is required is mindfulness of historical errors and, mainly, systematic study and analysis of the circumstances under which those errors were made in our time. It is imperative that there be constant reference to the strategic framework, which is often lost behind longstanding habits and practices or inertia. No discussion is barred in the field of foreign policy. It suffices that the discussion is carried out with scientific and professional proficiency and national and political responsibility, with nothing being sacrificed on the altar of the domestic political state of affairs or micro-political expediencies.
True patriotism is founded only on thorough knowledge of history and impartial evaluation of the balance of power. But constant close attention is required, because fixations and stereotypes can insinuate themselves into the narrative at any time. The pending crises in the Middle East and North Africa have in their background the historical pending issues of the interwar period, regarding the drawing of borders and formulation of the notion of statehood.
Also in their background is the hard-to-admit dilemma between democracy and rule of law, on the one hand, and security, on the other. The crisis in Ukraine and in the relations between Russia and the West have necessitated a reassessment of the functionality of many international institutions, from the UN Security Council to the OSCE, while also pointing up the EU’s limits as an self-contained political entity.
The manner in which the Republic of Cyprus, in close cooperation with Greece, is handling the ongoing Turkish provocation in the Cypriot EEZ and continental shelf, and the manner in which the trilateral cooperation between Egypt, Cyprus and Greece is evolving are two good examples of what I mean.
The reckless public debate carried out a few months ago regarding the supposed environmental hazards in the Mediterranean from the operation for the destruction of Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal, under the control of the UN itself and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons – an operation that was accomplished in complete safety – is a reverse example.
As I had the honor, over the past five years, of consecutively heading up the country’s defence, economic, and foreign and European policy, under very difficult and stressful circumstances, I have first-hand experience of the importance of a levelheaded, rational, generous and consensual public debate on these issues. It is my hope and wish that the conditions for such a debate take shape.