These harsh policies, while necessary, had a tough impact on the population. Moreover, they caused a widespread anti-EU sentiment as well as violent protests and social turmoil. To add further problems, the immigration crisis started in the wake of the war in Syria put further pressure on Greece in both economic and social terms, due to a considerable flow of refugees from the conflict zones. Now the situation is slowly improving, but it remains troubling.
At the international level, Greece has problematic relations with most of its neighbors. Apart from the disagreements with the EU and some of its member states (notably Germany) over the debt crisis, Greece is involved in disputes with Albania and FYROM (Macedonia). The former involves the territory of Norther Epirus, located in Albania but inhabited by a significant Greek minority; still, bilateral relations have greatly improved in recent years. The latter is over the use of the name “Macedonia”, as Greece does not accept its use by FYROM and refuses Skopje’s claim of being the modern inheritor of the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia and its cultural legacy, that Greece considers part of its history.
But with no doubt the most troublesome situation is with Turkey. Even though they are both members of the NATO alliance, their bilateral relations remain tense due to a series of issues. Apart from a centuries-long historical rivalry between the two populations, the most important matters are maritime disputes, the frequent violations of Greece’s airspace and territorial waters by the Turkish military, Athens’ opposition to Ankara joining the EU, and the Cyprus question. The island, an independent state having close political and cultural ties with Greece but that also hosts an important Turkish minority, is de facto divided in two; as the northern part (under the name of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Ankara) is under Turkey’s military occupation since 1974. Cyprus’ problem also has an economic dimension, since it affects the possibility of exploiting the hydrocarbon fields in the Eastern Mediterranean. The difficult relations with Turkey are largely the reason why Greece maintains a relatively high military budget, being among the few NATO countries spending the required 2% of GDP on defense. As such, the Greek Armed Forces remain a quite powerful military force; even though the recent economic crisis has hampered the modernization program.
Being located at the southernmost tip of the Balkans and being close to the Black Sea and the Middle East, Greece attracts the attention of foreign powers as well. Through NATO, Greece maintains close relations with the US, who has a military base in Crete. Russia also has interests in the country: apart from long-standing historical ties based upon the common Orthodox faith and shared interests, Moscow plans to build a pipeline passing through Greece. Finally, the most recent presence is that of China, who considers Greece as the gate to the EU in the context of its ambitious “One Belt, One Road” initiative aimed at connecting Europe and the Far East. Because of this, Beijing is making significant investments in the country, especially in infrastructures such as ports or railways.
On its part, Greece has interests in the Eastern Mediterranean due to security and economic reasons (namely hydrocarbon exploitation, a relevant issue considering the country’s lack of energy resources) and in the Balkans, and in spite of the recent difficulties it remains an important investor in both areas. Greece also play a significant role in maritime trade, having one of the biggest merchant fleets in the world.
As such, after the severe economic recession and the social troubles it experienced, the situation is improving. Much remains to be done before the situation comes back to pre-crisis level; but a rebound is possible, and the international context offers opportunities in this sense. However, Greece needs to carefully manage the situation to ensure a firm recovery and avoid a new stagnation or excessive dependence from foreign countries in financial and political terms.
The reports focusing on Greece will be posted below.