Former foreign minister Nikos Kotzias, who resigned on Wednesday, is a unique personality. He had tense relations, not just with Defense Minister Panos Kammenos and officials from the opposition, but also with people inside the government – even inside the prime minister’s office.
With deep knowledge of foreign affairs issues and firm views, he fostered an active foreign policy. He dared to seek solutions to chronic problems whose perpetuation did not benefit Greece, and he promoted regional and international cooperation schemes with several countries, including Israel and Egypt, as well as Greece’s Balkan neighbors.
This does not mean that his approach was always correct. Many have raised objections over the policies he followed on specific issues, and with reason. However, he was a minister who wanted to close pending issues – and this was also the impression he gave abroad – so that he could invest more diplomatic capital in what he considered the most important problems facing Greece, such as relations with Turkey.
Kotzias has a temper, and his positions often caused reactions, which did not help him form consensus with the opposition, despite the fact that those in charge of foreign policy in New Democracy and the Movement of Change are respected and reasonable people.
His decision to declassify and publish internal Foreign Ministry documents to expose the strategies followed by his predecessors and support his own position on the name dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was a mistake. Some sensitive aspects of the nation’s foreign and security policies should have remained above partisan politics.
His departure comes at a very sensitive time for the region. FYROM’s constitutional reform remains uncertain and one cannot exclude early polls in the neighboring country. The completion of the agreement with Albania to resolve bilateral issues remains pending, Ankara is questioning Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone and is planning its own exploratory drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the gradual delimitation of Greece’s EEZ with Egypt is still being discussed. At the same time, relations with Russia remain foggy.
On the Greek-US front, the former minister was planning to inaugurate the bilateral Strategic Dialogue with his US counterpart Mike Pompeo in Washington in December. Now it seems that relations with the United States will be handled by Alexis Tsipras himself.
Tsipras’s warning that he will not allow two-faced behavior by anyone was mainly directed at Defense Minister and junior coalition partner Panos Kammenos, who in a recent visit to Washington seemed to promote his own agenda on the name deal and other issues.
The prime minister’s decision to lead the Foreign Ministry – as late Prime Minister Constantinos Mitsotakis had done in 1992 after removing Antonis Samaras from the post – means he will be personally credited with or criticized for any successes or failures in foreign affairs.
Finally, there is also the domestic politics dimension of Kotzias’s resignation. Nobody knows what his next move will be as head of the Pratto movement, which includes two more MPs, Nikos Toskas and Georgia Gennia, who are allied with SYRIZA. Whether he will create problems for the government, or even threaten its parliamentary majority, remains to be seen.