Despite renewed Russian aggression on NATO’s eastern flank, Allied countries must also maintain focus on the southern flank and cope with compelling drivers of insecurity in the Mediterranean region. That was the key message during the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s (NATO PA) Mediterranean and Middle East Special Group’s (GSM) deliberations in Athens from 8 to 9 November. The delegation consisted of 24 lawmakers representing 12 NATO member states and was welcomed by Spilios Livanos, Head of the Delegation of Greece and NATO PA Vice-President. GSM Vice-Chairpersons Manousos Konstantinos Voloudakis (Greece) and Fernando Gutierrez (Spain) presided over the deliberations.
Mass migration, political instability, economic underdevelopment, governance crises, conflict and climate change continue to unsettle countries along the Mediterranean littoral and throughout the broader Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Moreover, Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine has aggravated threats to food and energy security in the region, while fomenting grave economic, social and political tensions that could trigger future waves of migration to Europe. For Allies like Greece, NATO is seen as critical to building security across this unsettled landscape.
Greek Minister of Migration and Asylum, Notis Mitarachi, told NATO PA members that Belarus’ instrumentalisation of migration along the eastern borders of Europe in the fall of 2021 marked a new kind of challenge to Allied countries. He noted that since the 2015 Syrian refugee crisis, Greece has worked diligently to uphold human rights and protect human lives in the Mediterranean Sea. This was a message echoed by Giannis Plakiotakis, Minister of Maritime Affairs and Insular Policy. Minister Mitarachi stressed that dealing with the challenge demands solidarity among like-minded countries and urged Allies to help mitigate the root causes of migration, including political instability, economic crisis, environmental degradation and insecurity. The Minister also asserted that human smugglers and traffickers should not de facto be accorded the power to select who ultimately lives in Europe. This, he said, must remain the sovereign prerogative of European governments.
Several speakers condemned Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine and voiced their support for maintaining military and humanitarian aid for the people of Ukraine. Nikolaos Panagiotopoulos, Minister of National Defence of Greece, told the parliamentarians that Ukraine needs air defence support now as drone attacks can be expected over the harsh winter months. He added that Greece is committed to meeting and enhancing its commitments to the Alliance, despite serious strains on the economy linked to the COVID-19 pandemic, the supply chain crisis and soaring energy prices. The government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis aims to increase defence spending to 4% of its GDP, with 45% of this allocated for research, development and the acquisition of new military systems.
Dimitros Tsalemis, Director General for Energy at the Ministry of Environment and Energy of Greece, pointed out that Greece has made securing new sources of energy a top priority. He lamented Russia’s persistent use of energy as a geopolitical tool and argued that because of Russia’s war on Ukraine, Allies will ultimately have to cease importing Russian energy. Greece is preparing for this eventuality, and the port of Alexandroupolis will host a floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility to enhance the country’s capacity to import LNG from suppliers around the world. Recently discovered gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean will eventually provide additional energy options for the region too, he added.
Panayotis Tsakonas, Professor at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, noted that Greece is dealing with several interstate disputes and regional instability in the Mediterranean region. Greece, he said, finds itself at the increasingly insecure crossroads of three continents and bears important border responsibilities with European-wide implications.
Greek officials and experts alike stressed the importance of solving disputes through both dialogue and international law. Thanos Dokos, the Prime Minister’s National Security Advisor, called for the formation of multilateral security platforms in the Mediterranean region to foster improved dialogue. Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs for European Affairs, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, pointed to the recent Israel-Lebanon agreement on the delimitation of the maritime border between the two countries as a particularly promising development that should serve as a blueprint for reconciliation and security building in the region.
In Athens the GSM elected Fernando Gutierrez (Spain) as its new Chairperson, Zaida Cantera (Spain) and Jean-Marie Fiévet (France) as its Vice-Chairpersons and Theo Francken (Belgium) as the group’s Rapporteur. Members also voted to adopt the draft report Shared Migration Challenges: The Transatlantic Community and the MENA Region.