Every now and again, football and politics go hand-in-hand. On December 11, Greece’s Olympiacos Piraeus played in Athens against Red Star Belgrade, Serbia’s most storied club, on the last day of the Champions League Qualifiers.
Coincidentally, the two teams’ match took place on the second day of Aleksandar Vucic’s visit to Athens. Vucic was accompanied by a number of ministers and high-ranking government officials, were in town to promote Greek-Serbian relations and and the two countries’ strategic partnership.
Greece’s Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, and Vucic are no strangers. The two met several years ago when Mitsotakis headed a New Democracy delegation that travelled to Serbia to hold talks with state officials. Bilateral relations between Greece and Serbia have traditionally been very strong, was Athens has always been one of the strongest supporters of Belgrade’s European course.
Mitsotakis and Vucic previously met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York this past September. Vucic’s latest visit to Athens came after a personal invitation from Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos.
After discussing with the participation of several Ministers at the Maximos Mansion, the seat of the Greek government, Mitsotakis and Vucic signed an agreement for an enhanced bilateral strategic partnership in a variety of sectors, including defense, the economy, security, culture, sports, education, and tourism. Athens is particularly interested in the fields of energy and infrastructure, with several Greek companies already having invested in Serbia.
After the end of the meeting with Mitsotakis, Vucic told a joint media conference that the declaration is hugely important to Serbia which “is a loyal and true friend of the Greek people and the Greek state” while adding that he is personally “convinced that geo-politically, the future demands greater respect for independent and sovereign countries and their friendship.”
Mitsotakis said the declaration opens a new chapter in the two countries’ relations and serves as a framework to promote cooperation at all levels. “The priorities are energy and infrastructure and the main goal is to finish the Piraeus-Thessaloniki-Skopje-Belgrade-Budapest line, which is of great importance to trade, transport, and communication between the four neighbouring peoples,” said Mitsotakis.
Mitsotakis discussed Vucic’s previously states commitments to welcome some migrants that are unaccompanied minors and who still find themselves in Greece, a position that the former has repeatedly requested from fellow EU members.
At present, there are at least 5,000 unaccompanied minors are still located in facilities in Greece, both on the islands and in the mainland. Greek officials have repeatedly tried to make it clear to the rest of Europe that a proportioned settlement of unaccompanied children around the EU should not be a major burden.
Several weeks before the Mitsotakis-Vucic meeting, Greek Minister for Citizens’ Protection Michalis Xrysoxoidis sent a letter to all 27 EU Member States, calling them upon to accept the bulk of the under-aged migrants. Only one country, however, offered a positive response to the Greek request, while the majority refused to even answer.
Amid this hostile environment, Vucic has stated that Serbia is ready to resettle some of the young migrants that remain stranded in Greece, even if the country is not yet an EU member.
Towards the EU
Vucic’s visit served as an opportunity to reaffirm Greece’s support for Belgrade’s path towards full EU membership. At this point, Athens is focused on overcoming France’s decision to veto opening accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania.
The EU’s Council on Foreign Relations and Greece’s foreign minister, Nikos Dendias, hosted a working lunch for the Western Balkans with the participation of around 20 Ministers. According to government officials, Greece is heading the efforts in order to open accession talks with Skopje and Tirana in the hope of overturning France’s veto. Serbia is, therefore, taking a close look at Greece’s efforts, as Belgrade is already on course to begin its EU accession by 2025 after successfully concluding all of the pre-accession chapters.