Relations between Greece and Turkey have officially entered a new phase thanks to the High Level Cooperation Council which took place today in Athens. During the intergovernmental summit, organized seven years after the last one, 15 agreements were signed by the delegations of the two countries to promote cooperation in a wide range of sectors, while it was signed by the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and the Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan a historic Declaration of friendship and good neighborliness. After years of turbulence and cold diplomatic relations mainly due to disputes over the Aegean Sea relating to the delimitation of Exclusive economic zones and the sovereignty of some small islands, the Hellenic Prime Minister and the Turkish President have decided to put aside hostilities to focus on issues of common interest and restart bilateral relations, as agreed last July on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Vilnius. Erdogan had not been to Greece since 2017. “I feel great satisfaction at being back in Athens and am grateful for the warm welcome. With Mitsotakis we agreed to keep communication channels open and we wish to further develop the current positive momentum in relations,” the Turkish president said during the joint press conference with the Greek prime minister. For his part, Mitsotakis underlined that Athens and Ankara "must live in peace, without fueling tensions". “Our bilateral relations have experienced some fluctuations, now it is extremely important that the two countries walk on a calmer path”.
The development of cooperation between Greece and Turkey starts from a fact: trade has to date exceeded 5 billion euros, and Mitsotakis ed Erdogan have set a "realistic" goal of reaching 10 billion euros within the next five years. But the foundations for strengthening relations also embrace the issue of illegal immigration. The Hellenic Prime Minister welcomed the reduction in migratory flows towards Greece, explaining that this is a result achieved also thanks to the greater collaboration that has occurred in recent months between the authorities of the two countries involved in border surveillance. Furthermore, Mitsotakis assured Erdogan that Athens supports the simplification of visa granting for Turkish citizens within the framework of the European acquis, announcing that following EU approval “the possibility for citizens of Turkey and their families to visit ten Greek islands throughout the year for a period of seven days at a time.”
In the Declaration of Friendship and Good Neighborhood signed in Athens by the leaders of Greece and Turkey, it is underlined that the two countries recognize the potential to significantly increase the prosperity and dynamism of the region, as well as the need to continue working together for the benefit of both societies in a climate of friendship and mutual trust. “Both sides will approach their relations with the aim of strengthening economic cooperation and deepening ties between peoples, thus contributing to prosperity and peaceful coexistence,” the document explains. On the basis of the Joint Declaration, Athens and Ankara commit “to refrain from any declaration, initiative or action that could jeopardize the maintenance of peace and stability in the region”. At the same time, the document assures that the two countries "will seek to resolve any dispute that may arise between them in an amicable manner, through direct consultations or by other means of mutual choice, as provided for in the Charter of the United Nations". In particular, Greece and Turkey agreed to commit to a relationship based on three pillars: political dialogue, positive agenda, confidence-building measures. Athens and Ankara However, they underline that the document "is not an international agreement binding on the parties under international law". “Nothing contained in this Declaration may be interpreted as creating any legal rights or obligations for the parties”, is therefore highlighted in the final part of the Declaration.
Demonstrating the willingness to commit to the development of a positive agenda for bilateral relations are the 15 agreements signed during the Supreme Council of High Cooperation, including memorandums of understanding and inter-ministerial declarations. Among the most relevant, there are those that include: the creation of a new line between the Greek city of Nea Santa and the Turkish city of Babaeski, with the aim of increasing the volume of bidirectional energy flow; the development of entrepreneurial network structures for the exchange of experiences and knowledge; promoting cooperation between the export credit agencies of the two countries and increasing the mutual transfer of goods and services; the annual convening of a Joint Committee for Tourism, aimed at developing direct cooperation between Greek and Turkish travel agencies; the collaboration of the respective national bodies for scientific research and innovation; further developing cooperation between Greek and Turkish customs authorities, fighting fraud and making services more efficient. Furthermore, Athens and Ankara signed a declaration to agree on the convening of the sixth session of the Joint Economic and Trade Committee, with the Turkish side proposing that it be held on 2 February 2024 in Istanbul.
The intergovernmental summit organized in Athens was therefore an opportunity to write a new page in the controversial relations between Greece and Turkey. The fact that this year both Erdogan and Mitsotakis clearly won their respective elections represents a guarantee for the directions of the two countries in foreign policy in the coming years. Athens and Ankara have demonstrated with facts that they want to elevate relations to a new phase, and the premises created during the High Level Cooperation Council certify this. This positive climate also represents a further pillar for regional stability, in a global context characterized by conflicts in Ukraine and in the Middle East, with reflections on the food and energy crisis. From this new phase of relations between the two shores of the Aegean, among other things, Greece could further enhance its role in the macro region, while Turkey could strengthen its economic and foreign policy in light of the change in posture towards Russia after the invasion of Ukraine. The objective of Athens and Ankara is clear: to direct the near future towards a constructive path based on affinities and not on divisions.