‘When Ankara sneezes, Athens catches a cold’

‘When Ankara sneezes, Athens catches a cold’

Greece is looking at the developments in Turkey with a great deal of apprehension. Anything that may cause trouble in Turkey can be a cause of great concern for Greece.

Things are not easy in Turkey’s western neighbor. The Alexis Tsipras government is battling against a falling popularity and an increasing public discontent while trying to implement even harsher austerity measures demanded by Greece’s creditors in the European Union and the IMF.

The New Year entered with bad news on the domestic front. Greeks will see even deeper cuts in their salaries and pensions as the Economy Minister aims to collect an extra 2.5 billion euros from taxes mainly on incomes and transactions, in order to keep the economy on balance required by the creditors. Greeks are aware that in spite of what the government is predicting, the crisis will keep their country in a straightjacket under the strict monitoring of Berlin, Brussels and New York for quite a long time.

Yet, there is even bigger fear among Greeks and that is the developments happening in their closest neighbor, Turkey. The repeated terrorist attacks which as President Erdoğan said were aiming at “creating chaos in Turkey,” actually causes “extreme fear” in Greece. People understand that Greece, which is in continuous economic difficulties, is also vulnerable to additional adversities relating to terror or to a possible sudden influx of migrants escaping terror. 

Yannis Mouzalas, the Minister of Migration Policy, was quite frank about what would have happened if the EU-Turkey refugee agreement had not been implemented. In an interview to the Greek press, Mouzalas openly accepted that the EU-Turkey agreement helped Greece because it was a basis “to put the chaos in order.” If it were not for this, he said that Greece would have to deal with “an inflow of 100,000 migrant/refugees.”
Greece has been subjected to severe criticism at the start of the migrant/refugee crisis more than one year ago, for its slow response and lack of organization to accommodate the thousands of migrant/refugees coming mainly from Turkey, of which some were washed ashore Aegean islands. For a then-young and inexperienced Greek government, it took a lot of effort and a change of minister to persuade its European partners that they are taking the matter seriously. 

So it is not a surprise that the Greek Minister underlines the importance of the EU-Turkey agreement from Greece’s side. And this importance is even more apparent when he is asked whether the Greek government had a plan B if the agreement falls apart. His reply was disarmingly honest, “Plan B and C plan is the plan A: to apply the agreement.”

It was the great statesman, Klemens Von Metternich, who had said that “When Paris sneezes, Europe catches a cold” and you can change Paris for Ankara and Europe for Greece. But he has also famously said that “Any plan conceived in moderation must fail when the circumstances are set in extremes.”