Old ties: On the India and Greece bilateral relationship

India and Greece are finding new ways to revive an age-old relationship 

August 29, 2023 12:10 am | Updated 07:58 am IST

Speaking after a bilateral meeting with Greece’s Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis last week, Prime Minister Narendra Modi highlighted that India-Greece bilateral relations have neither been “diminished” nor has the warmth decreased despite no Indian Prime Minister having visited Greece since 1983. However, the absence of high-level contact has meant a lack of close strategic ties in the way India has with other nearby countries in Europe such as France, Spain, Italy and Cyprus. To that end, Mr. Modi’s visit, which came shortly after Mr. Mitsotakis’s re-election in June, sought to leap-frog ties. India and Greece agreed to establish a “Strategic Partnership” and announced plans for a dialogue mechanism between their National Security Advisers apart from plans for a skilled migration and mobility partnership, as well as cooperation to complete negotiations for the India-European Union (EU) Free Trade Negotiation on Connectivity partnership. While connectivity between the two countries was forged by Alexander’s invasion in 326 BCE, exchanges now have been mainly predicated on tourism, trade (about $2 billion) and migration of labour, without a more comprehensive bilateral strategy at play. Speaking to the Greek newspaper, Kathimerini, Mr. Modi hoped that India’s ambition to become a global manufacturing hub could now be melded with Greece’s aspirations to become an “economic gateway” to the EU. In addition, India and Greece, once plundered by colonial powers, have also held discussions on the restoration of artefacts. They may find common cause in pushing legislation through UNESCO to help restore some of their historical property.

Their strategic ties have a strong geopolitical impetus as well. Mr. Modi’s outreach comes as Greece, which has overcome several years as an “economic trouble-spot” and once over-indebted to Chinese investment, seeks to diversify its options. In Greece’s strengthened ties with Israel and Cyprus — in what is seen as a coalition to counter Turkey — India might find some common ground, given Delhi-Ankara tensions over Turkey’s role in the OIC and over Kashmir. In addition, India and Greece, once ancient maritime powers, face concerns over the maintenance of maritime security in keeping with international laws. Mr. Mitsotakis referred to the “common” interests that bind the Eastern Mediterranean and the Indo-Pacific regions. Lauding the landing of Chandrayaan-3, he said it showed “favourable omens” for the relationship between the most populous democracy and the first democracy, suggesting that both countries use the favourable winds to set the course for more cooperation, without allowing another four decades to lapse.

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