After a lost decade, due to the economic crisis and then to the pandemic, Greece is back to playing its natural role as the first power in the Balkans. It is a role that is welcomed by most countries in south-eastern Europe.
We may not have the kind of economic penetration that flourished in the 2000s, when Greece’s banking presence was also particularly strong in many Balkan countries, but Greece’s membership in NATO and the decades-old European Union, in combination with the size and set of characteristics of its economy – which it is hoped will soon regain growth and improve rapidly in the years to come – are a foundation sufficient for such a role.
The 2018 Prespes name agreement, meanwhile, created new potential for active involvement and momentum in specific flagship projects. The atmosphere during the successive meetings last week in Athens, between the Greek Prime Minister and many of his counterparts in the Balkans – from Slovenia (which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU), Serbia, North Macedonia, from Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina – was revealing.
As the economically, diplomatically and militarily the most powerful and institutionally most robust country in the region, Greece is developing its commercial and geostrategic influence, which does not target anyone, but certainly presents an attractive alternative for countries under pressure from others. who often use religion. as the 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 in a range of areas, from safe travel corridors and tourists from the Balkans traveling to Greece during the summer, to connections between states, with the port in northern Greece. 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 who may, by virtue of geography, be better served by Greece.