After a decade lost, due to the economic crisis and then to the pandemic, Greece is back to playing its natural role as the leading power in the Balkans. It is a role that is welcomed by most of Southeastern Europe.
We may not have the kind of economic penetration that flourished in the 00s, when also the presence of Greek banking was particularly strong in many Balkan countries, but Greece’s decades-old membership of NATO and the European Union, in combination with the size and overall characteristics of its economy – which one hopes, will soon get back to growth and rapidly improve in the coming years – are a sufficient basis for such a role.
The 2018 Prespes name deal, meanwhile, created fresh potential for active involvement and impetus to specific landmark projects. The mood at successive meetings last week in Athens, between the Greek prime minister and many of his Balkan counterparts – from Slovenia (currently holding the rotating EU presidency), Serbia, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Bosnia-Herzegovina – was indicative.
As the economically, diplomatically and militarily most powerful and institutionally most robust country in the region, Greece is developing its commercial and geostrategic influence, which is not aimed against anyone, but certainly presents an attractive alternative for countries under pressure from others which often use religion as their main tool of influence, and in some cases coercion.
The high-level meetings that took place a few days ago in Athens explored specific plans for cooperation across a range of areas, from safe travel corridors and Balkan tourists traveling to Greece during the summer, to energy connections between states, with the northern Greek port of Alexandroupoli playing a leading role.
Greece’s leadership role in the region deserves the active support of the European Union and the United States, as safeguarding the Euro-Atlantic trajectory of the Balkans is a common goal shared by Athens, Brussels and Washington, and which can, by virtue of geography, be best served by Greece.