Analysis: Greece Sees Promise In Partnership With India

Analysis: Greece Sees Promise In Partnership With India

A return to closer engagement between India and Greece is welcome. Greece, mainland and islands, also provide a great tourism destination for India’s increasingly prosperous and peripatetic middle class

K C SinghUpdated: Friday, February 23, 2024, 11:07 PM IST
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Greece and Turkey have the same sort of dissonance over divided Cyprus that India and Pakistan have over divided Kashmir | Representative Image/Dimitris Vetsikas/Pixabay

The ninth edition of Raisina Dialogue, the principal Indian platform for debate on geopolitical and geoeconomic issues, hosted Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis as chief guest this year. It coincided with his state visit on February 21-22.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his inaugural remarks observed that other than his visit to Greece last year 14 years have elapsed since high level interaction between the two nations. Diplomacy is of course conditioned by domestic political developments and the international context. The last close bilateral interaction was in the 1980s I.

With the election of Ronald Reagan as US president in 1980 the Cold War entered a phase of increased super-power friction. Reagan’s aggressive rhetoric combined with higher defence outlay and Strategic Defence Initiative raised global fears about a nuclear Armageddon. India was then under the prime ministership of Indira Gandhi followed by her son Rajiv. In Greece after the military dictatorship collapsed in 1974 Andreas Papandreou returned from exile to establish his Panhellenic Socialist Movement. Seen by Western nations as radical, he proposed “a third way”, outside the perceived Eastern and Western camps. This sounded akin to the traditional post-Independence Indian foreign policy approach that morphed into the Non Aligned Movement (NAM). He sought removal of US bases from the Greek soil, withdrawal from NATO and rejection of full European Union Membership. Once he assumed power as prime minister in 1981, serving three terms(1981-89 & 1993-96), he moderated his extreme views to not rock the European alliance system excessively.

Therefore it was not surprising that India and Greece joined in May 1984 a six-nation initiative for nuclear disarmament to stop, what they called, “a rush towards global suicide”. Papandreou visited India thrice i.e. in November 1984 for Mrs Gandhi’s funeral, in January 1985 for the 6-nation summit and in January 1986 as chief guest at Republic Day. In addition President Zail Singh visited Greece in October 1986. Thereafter the relationship slipped to the back- burner as priorities changed with the Cold War ending and the Soviet Union’s breakup in 1991.

In the 21st century as the Indian economy grew healthily, Greece faced an economic meltdown, which peaked in 2015. According to a Reuters report in 2008-13 Greeks became 40% poorer as unemployment and economic distress spread. Disposable household incomes sank below the 2003 levels. Greece required three mammoth bailouts totalling $ 280 billion. Into this chaos stepped PM Matsotakis in 2016 with his New Democracy party, becoming prime minister in 2019.

Since then PM Matsotakis has scripted a remarkable story of Greek economic rejuvenation. From “junk” rating he guided Greece to investment grade credit rating. The nation rewarded him with a thumping reelection in 2023. His interest in India is understandable as he looks beyond his European context. In his joint press conference with Prime Minister Narendra Modi he saw “great promise” in the new Indo-Greek “strategic partnership”. He especially suggested cooperation in infrastructure development.

While PM Modi underlined a decision to double the trade by 2030, the Greek leader singled out India’s keen interest in the India-Middle East-Economic Corridor (IMEC). This ambitious project was announced with much fanfare on the sidelines of the G-20 summit hosted by India in September 2023. However the October 7 attack by Hamas on Israel and resulting brutal Israeli retaliation have for the time being postponed its further implementation. Although the United Arab Emirates (UAE) stays committed to the Abraham Accords, normalising its relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia has publicly conditioned any deal with Israel on a clear path to a Palestinian state alongside Israel. In view of the Adani group having already spent $ 1.2 billion to buy control of Haifa port in Israel, they must be already looking for a corresponding port in Greece for IMEC’s European link.

Complicating the search for a Greek port that an Indian entity could control is the transfer of Greece’s principal port Piraeus to China during the Greek financial crisis. In any case, IMEC becoming operational depends on the Gaza crisis normalising and then leading to a 2-state solution to the 75-year old dispute. That journey is likely to face multiple hurdles before Saudis can publicly acknowledge infrastructure partnership with Israel. However there are reports that UAE has already begun allowing trucks to carry goods to Israel overland via Saudi Arabia and Jordan.

Nevertheless a return to closer engagement between India and Greece is welcome. Greece and Turkey have the same sort of dissonance over divided Cyprus that India and Pakistan have over divided Kashmir. A vibrant relationship with Greece increases Indian leverage with Turkey, which Pakistan considers as a useful Islamic ally to needle India occasionally over developments in Jammu and Kashmir. Greece, mainland and islands, also provide a great tourism destination for India’s increasingly prosperous and peripatetic middle class. Alexander’s legacy of bridging the gap between Europe and Asia requires constant renewal.

KC Singh is former secretary, Ministry of External Affairs

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