We were annoyed by Obama’s visit to Turkey, without a similar stop-over to Athens – obviously forgetting that after the welcome we reserved for President Clinton, future American Presidents will not show particular willingness to visit Greece.
We were unhappily surprised by Turkey’s strategic upgrade in Washington’s plans.
Obviously we didn’t give enough attention to Ankara’s methodical effort – especially in the last two years – to develop into an accepted mediator on a series of regional conflicts and to improve its role within the Muslim world.
And now we rush to highlight – unfortunately only in words and not in actions – the importance of Greece in the wider region.
Without wanting to underestimate some successful Greek initiatives, for example the immediate dispatch of humanitarian aid to Gaza, we must realise that a country’s specialised role in a specific region cannot be constructed in one day but rather is the fruit of a long-term and systematic effort.
It requires a political, economic and cultural investment in a country or region over many years, before a special relationship, role or influence can be articulated.
For geographical, historical, economic reasons as well as for the sake of political developments, Greece can play a specialized role in three regions: Balkans, Black Sea and Mediterranean/Middle East.
For different reasons on each occasion Greek influence in these regions is less of what is expected and achievable.
To improve Greece’s role, besides the actions and choices of any acting government there needs to be certain changes in the way the Ministry of Foreign Affairs operates, with the most important being the geographical and thematic specialisation of a number of its diplomats.
We need diplomats who know the language and the inner workings of countries and regions of high level interest – Turkey, Russia, Balkans, Middle East and others; who will spend most of their careers in respective posts and will become “familiar faces” in regional meetings, conferences and other activities.
We need diplomats, businesspeople or other influential personalities who can play the role of roving ambassadors for the Prime Minister or the Foreign Minister.
We need academics that will possess deep knowledge of the aforementioned regions and will participate in regional forums, some of which should be hosted on a regular basis on Greek soil.
There needs to be a systematic effort to utilise the historical, cultural and religious ties wherever they exist.
We also need motivated, and outward looking businesspeople who will explore investment opportunities in the countries of these regions with the backing – if need be – of the Greek state and the active support of Greek embassies whose diplomats need to adjust to the demands of economic diplomacy.
But first and foremost we need a long-term strategy for our role in the wider region, separately, or in the framework of the EU without wishful thinking but with specific actions.
Dr Thanos Dokos is the Director General of the Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP)