Sunday, June 16, 2024
 
 

Greece looking for a seat at the Libya table

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When the Berlin Summit on Libya was first announced, Greece was not a part of the process. The fact that the country was not invited created a palpable amount of dissatisfaction within Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos’ Mitsotakis cabinet, with Mitsotakis himself having taken over the effort to have Greece included in the process.

Greece’s participation in the Berlin Summit is seen as critically important to Athens, given the Memorandum of Understanding on the declaration of an Exclusive Economic Zone between Turkey and Libya’s Government of National Accord, which is based in the national capital Tripoli.

Athens has declared the memorandum to be null and void and the EU also condemned it after the last summit of the European Council in December.

Prior to the Summit, Mitsotakis wrote, what Greek sources have described as “pointed”, a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Mitsotakis and Merkel also spoke via phone on January 17, just as Libyan General Khalifa Haftar, the leader of one of the two warring sides in the Libyan Civil War, was on his way to Athens to meet with Mitsotakis.

Mitsotakis also discussed the situation with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Council President Charles Michel about taking part in the Berlin Process. Despite Mitsotakis’ efforts, however, the issue of the memorandum was never raised during the conference. Instead, the participating leaders focused squarely on the necessity for a lasting ceasefire and a transition to the next stage for Libya.

After the summit, Germany Foreign Affairs Minister Heiko Maas extended an olive branch to Athens saying that the countries which were not invited to the initial summit could be part of the peace process at a later stage and participate in meetings as well as the working groups that will be set up to outline a security, financial, humanitarian, military framework for the peace process.

The Greek government is now looking at the opportunity presented by Maas, according to Greek officials.

A seat at the table

According to reports in the German press, Greece was sidelined after the Turkish delegation the summit demanded that Greek official be excluded from the talks.

Greek government sources have not confirmed the Turkish “veto” against their participation, but they have, however, indicated that the European side is fearful of angering the Turks as Brussels is fearful of a backlash from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, particularly when taking into consideration the Turks’ leverage in the management of the refugee crisis through the Joint EU-Turkey Statement.

According to German daily Bild, Turkey clearly stated that if Greece were to participate in the Berlin Summit, then this would jeopardise the implementation of the statement, which is meant to stem the tide of migrants flowing into Greece from Turkey.

Even without a Turkish veto, Merkel seems to be seriously taking into consideration Turkey’s role as the key player in the migration crisis and is thus willing to give Erdogan room to maneouvre. Merkel met with Erdogan in Istanbul on January 17 to reiterate Germany and Turkey’s long-standing strong partnership, despite recent tensions.   

Greece is not giving up, however. Hours before meeting with General Haftar, Mitsotakis said in a televised interview that Athens was going to be present in Berlin, despite its physical absence, meaning that Greece was going to be at the table through Haftar, who has an open channel of communication with the Greek government.

Haftar, himself, was not actually in the room at the Berlin Summit, clearly a setback for Mitsotakis’ intention to have someone speaking on behalf of his government. Mitsotakis has been championing for a peaceful political solution in Libya over the past weeks and repeated the same stance when meeting with Haftar in Athens. 

At the same time, Athens is signaling its readiness to participate in the Libya peace process in any way possible. Greek Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikos Dendias declared the Greek government’s willingness to participate in a European peacekeeping mission in Libya should the EU decide on such a mission in the coming weeks. 

Greece is trying to send the message that it is a broker for peace in the region and not just looking to make sure that the Turkish-Libyan Memorandum of Understanding is considered null and void. The greater goal for Mitsotakis is to ensure that whichever government takes over in Libya, that is will contest the legitimacy of the memorandum.

Following their Athens meeting, if General Haftar’s groups are a part of the future administration of the country, this might be more easily accopmplished.

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