Like France, Austria has clearly backed Greece in the conflict, while Germany, for example, is trying to mediate between Ankara and Athens. With his visit, Schallenberg underscores “Austria’s full solidarity with Greece and Cyprus,” as the Foreign Ministry declared. The Foreign Minister will meet his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in Athens on Thursday.
The two chief diplomats last met in Vienna in mid-August. Dendias had come to Vienna on short notice for the visit of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to discuss the gas dispute with him.
Tense situation on Lesbos
Migration will also be a topic during the visit to Greece. A visit by Schallenberg to the largest Greek refugee camp Moria on the island of Lesbos is not planned. Thousands of people lost their homes in the devastating fire last week and are now homeless. The situation is tense. Ten European countries have therefore agreed to accept a total of 400 unaccompanied minors – Austria is not among them.
The issue also caused tensions within the governing coalition: While the Greens are in favor of accepting refugees, the ÖVP is strictly against it. Instead, Austria offered Greece immediate aid with 400 fully equipped tents for 2,000 people and hygiene packages.
Schallenberg was only in Athens in March, also because of a conflict with Turkey. In the dispute over more money for the refugee agreement between the EU and Turkey, Ankara declared in February that the border with the EU was open to migrants. Thousands of people then set out to get from Turkey to Greece and thus to the EU. However, Greece did not let them pass. This dispute has been settled for the time being. Greece fears, however, that Turkey, which has taken in around 3.7 million Syrian refugees, could also use the migrants as a means of pressure in the current conflict.
Onward journey to Cyprus
On Thursday evening Schallenberg will travel to Cyprus and meet with the Cypriot Foreign Minister Nicos Christodoulides in Nicosia. A visit to the UN buffer zone is also on the program on Friday. The island has been divided between the EU member Cyprus and the internationally unrecognized Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus since 1974.
The gas dispute will also be an issue in Cyprus, which is now even a burden on the EU’s foreign policy towards Belarus. According to EU diplomats, Cyprus is blocking the adoption of EU sanctions against those responsible for alleged election fraud in Belarus.