On his way back from the BRICS summit in South Africa, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Greece on August 25. The last visit of an Indian Prime Minister to Greece was in 1983 when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi visited the country which is considered to be the cradle of Western Civilization. In 1983 Greece was led by Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou. Papandreou, the son of former Greek Prime Minister Georgios Papandreou was a socialist. Thus, there were ideological affinities between Indira Gandhi and him but these did not result in fostering close economic or diplomatic ties between the two countries because of the then realities of the Indian and the Greek economies. Besides, Greece was a member of NATO from which India kept far away.
On one issue, however, the position of the two countries was similar. This related to Cyprus which has a majority consisting of ethnic Greeks but a sizeable population of ethnic Turks. A Turkish invasion in 1974 effectively partitioned the island and peace is maintained by UN peace-keeping forces. India, like Greece was against the partition of Cyprus. Over the past almost five decades no peace initiative to resolve the Cyprus issue has succeeded. It is interesting that Cyprus issue did not find mention in the India-Greece Joint Statement that came out following Modi’s meeting with his Greek counterpart Kyriakos Mitsotakis. This is perhaps because no single global issue was specifically mentioned. And, it would have been difficult for both sides to find a common formulation on the Ukraine war which is more important for all European countries, including Greece, than the Cyprus issue at this stage.
The India-Greece Joint Statement is an important document for bilateral ties. It makes clear that the leaders of the two countries wish to raise the depth and scope of relations for they have decided to “upgrade Greek-India bilateral ties to the level of a “Strategic Partnership” and agreed to further expand bilateral cooperation in politics, security and economic spheres”. This is a timely decision because the Greek economy which went into what can only be called a prolonged meltdown following the global financial crisis of 2008 has now shown signs of recovery. The time has therefore come when the two countries can seek to build cooperative ties where they have respective strengths in the industrial, services and agricultural spheres.
Greece’s economic administrators are aware of the opportunities present in the Indian market for Greek entrepreneurs. In an article written a day after Modi’s visit, Kostas Fragogiannis, Greece’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for Economic Diplomacy and Openness, noted that “bolstering” India-Greek economic ties was important for “Greece as well”. He went on to add “…India represents an enormous market for Greek products and services. As a matter of fact, Greek companies can invest in India, availing themselves of its technological advancements, its available work force and its local market”. As for the positives for Indian companies to look to Greece, the Deputy Minister stated “…Indian companies are investing in Greece, thereby coming closer to Europe and simultaneously strengthening the Greek economy”. While these intentions are laudable it is their operationalization which has to be carried out by the private sector which becomes problematic unless it has the full support of the two governments. It remains to be seen the extent to which they will prioritize the enhancement of ties to reach the goal of doubling trade by 2030.
Three points in the Modi-MItsotakis interaction need specific comments.
First: The Joint Statement noted “As leaders of two ancient sea-faring nations, with a long-standing maritime outlook, they shared their vision of a free, open and a rules-based Mediterranean Sea and Indo-Pacific, in accordance of the law of the sea, in particular the provisions of UNCLOS, and with full respect for the sovereignty, territorial integrity, and freedom of navigation to the benefit of international peace, stability and security”.
The emphasis is on an adherence to a rules-based global maritime order. India is deeply concerned about China’s flouting maritime rules in the South China Sea as it is symptomatic of its aggressive approach to any restrictions on its interests arising out of current rules of the international game. For Greece, its maritime disputes with Turkey are a constant cause of worry. There is therefore a commonality of interests on this issue between India and Greece. It is only in recent years that India has begun to deliberately and consistently focus on its maritime heritage. This is good because for centuries Indian rulers whose centres of power were based in the north had a continental outlook and ignored the importance of the seas. This was despite the thousands of Kilometers of Indian coastal areas which are washed by the waters of the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal and with the Peninsular areas protruding into the Indian Ocean.
Two: Greece is one of the great tourist destinations of the world. This is especially so for Europeans and also Americans. While the Indian tourism industry has matured it can gain still gain insights from the how the Greeks manage their tourism.
Three: Greece is a gateway to the European Union. It attracts illegal migrants from the across Asia and Africa, including India. This has to regulated and stopped. At the same time Greece can gain from the movement of Indian professionals. Hence, both countries should give priority to the finalization of the ‘Mobility and Migration Partnership’ Agreement which is under consideration.
One final point. Modi did not use the term India is the ‘mother of democracy’ in his interactions in Greece. He said that both India and Greece were “two ancient democratic ideologies of the world”. Clearly, Modi was being discreet.