The political landscape in Libya has changed. An effort is underway to normalize domestic politics and restore relations abroad. Greece, as a neighboring country, has every reason to be interested in Libya and the right to have its say.
The Greek Prime Minister is going to Tripoli this Tuesday, accompanied by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, with the aim of relaunching relations with Libya. The first step, symbolic and substantial, is the reopening of the Greek Embassy in Tripoli, which, together with the reestablishment of the Consulate General in Benghazi, will facilitate the gradual implementation of the rapprochement and the development of bilateral cooperation, mainly in the energy and construction, but also in other areas.
Obviously, Greece supports the new Libyan government and looks forward to good neighborly relations.
International politics are guided by realism. When you make mistakes, you have to recognize them quickly and take corrective action. In this light, Greece’s rather hasty decision to expel Libyan ambassador and current interim presidential councilor Mohammed al-Menfi after the signing of the Turkish-Libyan memorandum, and the excessive support given to the Libyan government. General Khalifa Haftar, are seen as a thing of the past. This should not be an obstacle to establishing a new mutually beneficial relationship between the two neighboring countries.
In the same context, no one can ignore the fact that the former government of Fayez al-Sarraj was fully aligned with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and took major steps that were not favorable to Athens. But we have to look to the future. Turkish influence has not disappeared, as confirmed by recent visits to Ankara by the country’s interim president as well as the prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh.
In this difficult environment, the strategic objective for Greece, which is not easily achievable, remains the end of the illegal Turkish-Libyan memorandum. At the same time, it is clear that all foreign forces and all mercenaries must leave the country. This was also requested by the foreign ministers of three European countries, Germany, France and Italy, during their recent visit to Tripoli. However, they did not address the issue that most preoccupies Greece, the Sarraj-Erdogan memorandum.
As was the case with the Berlin International Conference on Libya, the Europeans again left Greece behind. The trade interests of some important countries are understandable, but the geography de facto makes Greece a country with a vested interest in developments in Libya, while Turkey’s aggressive violation of the sovereign rights of a member state of the Union should not leave their partners indifferent.
In any case, Greece wants good neighborly relations with Libya, which must obviously be based on international law. Such a positive development will not only facilitate the establishment of bilateral cooperation. It will also allow Greece to use its role as a full member of the EU to work for the development of closer trade relations between Brussels and Tripoli.
As the people in power in Tripoli take into account all the parameters of this complex equation, they will realize that it does not serve their country’s interests to alienate Greece. In this context, it would be wise to avoid the activation of the illegal Sarraj-Erdogan memorandum and to consider resuming the dialogue with Athens on the delimitation of the maritime zones between the two countries, interrupted ten years ago.
Of course, the Libyan transitional government cannot take major decisions. Yet Tuesday’s visit offers an opportunity for a fresh start towards better relations with an important European neighbor.