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Interview with Prof. Panagiota Manoli from the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP)

The interview was conducted during a study visit to Athens on March 15th as part of the Three Seas Initiative Research Center project at the Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Julia Dobrowolska (Project Coordinator, The 3SI Research Center): What is the 3SI from the Greek perspective?

Prof. Panagiota Manoli:  Athens views the Three Seas Initiative as a new and I think a kind of ambitious project to integrate economically the European territories from the south all up to the north of Central-Eastern Europe. This south-north corridor, an economic one, is something new, and it has been given impetus because of the current security developments in Europe as well. Today, we don’t talk much about the importance of east-west connection, which was linked to the developments in Europe taking place in the ’90s, but more importance is given to south-north connectivity. From Athens point of view, the latter’s importance rests in the economic integration potential and especially the interconnection of infrastructure that would boost economic integration and territorial cohesion. This is very important for Greece at the national level and with regard to the northeast regions of the country and their territorial cohesion, economic development and integration with the European markets. The northeast regions of Greece, were left behind compared to other regions in terms of their economic development in the previous decades, also lacking good connectivity with the rest of EU markets. There are other considerations of course and I would say that the whole area now has acquired new  importance for Europe’s security, for the European Union primarily, but also for the Western alliance and, given the war in Ukraine, I would say that all types of initiatives in that area nowadays have also a security dimension. Collaborative initiatives are filtered by security lenses, and this is something we have to take into consideration nowadays after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But definitely, Greece does not see this Initiative from a geopolitical perspective. So, I would say Athens does not see any relevant value or geopolitical aspect there.

 JD: You touched on my second question; I’m interested in why Greece joined 3SI, because you’ve talked about security and mentioned the economy. So, what is the most important factor?

Prof. Manoli: Yes, as you said, I touched upon that in my previous comment. So, I would reiterate that for Greece, there is mainly an economic rationale behind its participation in 3SI, rather than any other rationale. It is important, development-wise, to link the country to the 3SI countries and, primarily, the area of the northeast of Greece that needs to further integrate with central and northern European markets. So, it’s primarily the economic lenses that have weighed. To add to the first question you’ve raised, I would say that Greece views this Initiative as a loose initiative, not favoring its further institutionalization, and would not advocate turning 3SI into an organization within the EU.  I have to clarify, nevertheless, that I don’t express any official views, of course, and that is my view as an expert.

JD: How do you assess the information about the 3SI in the Greek media? Was there any information about Greece joining 3SI in the media? Does the Greek society know about it?

Prof. Manoli: There isn’t a lot of interest in the media in the 3SI. There are not a lot of articles on 3SI in the daily press. The public is widely not aware of that initiative. I would even say that only few policymakers know much more about the 3SI scope and background than just its name. So, there hasn’t been a lot of interest, but this is also well explained by the fact that Greece was not participating in 3SI as a member. It’s a new member of the 3SI.  The lack of important bilateral issues with several of the countries that are part of the 3SI (with few exceptions such as Germany) has also undermined public interest. Also, there isn’t a lot of research conducted on 3SI.  There is not any research programs or publications from think tanks or academics, and there are no experts working systematically on 3SI, even though it’s an eight-year-old initiative. But I think that the lack of interest in 3SI is well explained given that Greece has had other priorities during the last eight years. These years have been difficult for Greece, overcoming an economic crisis, security problems with Turkey, a migration crisis, threats and instability coming from the south and east of the Mediterranean. So, the priorities were there rather than Central Europe.

JD: As regards Greece’s regional cooperation, where is the place of Central Europe? Is there any Greece’s interest in tightening relations with Central Europe?

Prof. Manoli: For Greece, the priority region so far was the Balkans. Since the ’90s and until today, Athens has prioritized regional cooperation in the Balkans. Balkan countries are the closest, geographically, markets. There are also other foreign policy and security reasons behind Greece’s interest in the Balkans related to bilateral issues including disputes. Some bilateral issues have been addressed and solved, while others are still pending. So, for Greece, regional cooperation was primarily a priority in the Balkans. Greece is part of the Regional Cooperation Council and participates in other organizations too such as the Black Sea Economic Cooperation Organization which several Balkan countries have joined. Thus, for Greece, the priority was the Balkans and the Black Sea as another region of interest – beyond the Mediterranean. Central Europe was not a priority also due to limited bilateral trade linkages with the countries in the region. The biggest, of course, trade partner is Germany, but Germany is conceived within a -northern- EU rather than a Central European context.  All in all, there have been no significant drivers, so far, to cultivate Greek interest towards regional cooperation in Central Europe.

JD: There are 13 3SI states – what are the bilateral relations between Greece and these countries? What is Poland’s place?

Prof. Manoli: In terms of Greece’s bilateral links with the members of the 3SI, and this does not come as a surprise, the most important bilateral relations are with Germany [3SI strategic partner]. Germany is Greece’s number one trade partner, a key investor in the country, and one of the top markets of inbound tourism to Greece.  Also, there have been some bilateral issues that date back to the Second World War such as the issue of the reparations for German war-time forced loans. Furthermore, it is the role that Germany plays in the common foreign and security policy of the European Union and in EU economic governance that matters for Athens.

Poland, on the other hand, does not rank high in Greek foreign policy. Romania and Bulgaria are more important to Greece as economic partners in trade and investments and in terms of their collaboration in multilateral initiatives, like the Regional Cooperation Council.  Energy projects such as the gas pipeline from Greece to Bulgaria have also created interdependencies. Thus, if we have to rank the 3SI countries in terms of their importance to Greece at a bilateral level, I would say that Poland would be placed fourth. Indicatively, despite the size of their markets, EU membership and their proximity, their bilateral trade is very low. Interestingly, Poland is not even among the top ten trade partners of Greece.  If I’m not mistaken, except Germany, Romania and Bulgaria, the other countries that participate in the 3SI are not among the ten top trade partners of Greece. This indicates the economic potential that exists. A reason for the poor economic linkages has been the lack of well-interconnected infrastructure networks. If we had better connectivity, trade linkages would also be stronger probably.

Going back to Greek-Polish relations, Warsaw and Athens sometimes have different views on matters of international security or different geopolitical perspectives. But still, what brings the two countries together, especially after 2022, is that they both have ‘big’ neighbors, which pose a security challenge. That common security condition makes Warsaw and Athens better understand their security concerns even though they might not identify the same players/countries as main threats to their security.


Prof. Panagiota Manoli – Research Fellow in ELIAMEP. Associate Professor in Political Economy of International Relations at the Department of Political Science and International Relations, University of the Peloponnese. She graduated from the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Athens and holds a PhD from the University of Warwick where she studied as an Alexandros A. Onassis scholar. She is a member of the Advisory Committee of the Greek Politics Specialist Group of the PSA (UK) and a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal Southeast European and Black Sea Studies (Routledge/Taylor and Francis). Her research interests focus on regionalism, global governance, security, and development in the Black Sea region.