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New Greek Government Says ‘No Haste’ in Relations with Turkey January 15, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Human rights abuses, Turkey, Yunanistan.
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With the new Greek government determined to eradicate the country’s newly acquired label as the EU’s most untrustworthy and problematic member, 2010 looks for the Greeks as if it will be the year that will be dominated by economy. With the elimination of tax evasion being the main target of the Greek government’s fight to save the country’s shaking economy; it is not surprising that traditional preoccupations of Greek politicians, like relations with Turkey, have been put on the back burner. For the first time in Greece’s recent political history, when the Prime Minister George Papandreou spoke of a new “threat to our national sovereignty,” he was not referring to Turks, but to the huge public debt that has enslaved Greece to foreign creditors.

“Don’t underestimate him. One of his strongest points is his long friendships with important international figures. He can ask for their help when he needs them,” a well-informed Greek political analyst was telling me the other day, while he was explaining to me that even if things get really bad, Papandreou would use his trump cards abroad and manage to get Greece out of trouble somehow. To what extent Papandreou will be able to help his ailing country through his foreign connections, is more of wishful thinking than a real expectation, and the Greek public opinion is already showing signs of frustration as the prime minister is spending “more time abroad with his friends at the Socialist International than at home.”

But whether the agenda of the new Greek government for the 2010 will mainly consist of an effort to apply a tough austerity program which would demand from the Greeks to work more and longer, while getting less pay and retiring later, certain important dates regarding foreign policy cannot be overlooked; and most of them relate to the relations with Turkey.

With his, by now, well-known style of appearing as someone who wants to “solve old problems with modern solutions” Papandreou jumped on the airplane to Istanbul just a few days after he was elected as prime minister last autumn. His unexpected trip immediately sent the message that he wanted to be different from his predecessor Costas Karamanlis, who made sure that bilateral issues remained stagnant for a good five years. His widely publicized trip to Istanbul, may have upset the Greek Cypriots as he had promised his first trip abroad to Nicosia. But his visit to Istanbul as a Foreign Minister – he holds both portfolios that of the prime minister and the foreign minister – was a perfect public relations exercise of public diplomacy, which won the Turkish public. It was followed by an actual proposal from the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip ErdoÄŸan carried physically to Athens in the form of a letter by the State Minister Egemen BaÄŸiÅŸ. The Turkish proposal suggested discussing everything as a whole, including Aegean, Rums and Cyprus. But after that initial dynamic start, once again the dialogue between Athens and Ankara came to a pause.

But perhaps not for long, the coming presidential elections in northern Cyprus in April is a date that neither Ankara, nor Athens can ignore. Ankara never misses a chance of reminding that the time is running out for a solution as Mehmet Ali Talat who is “the one who wants a solution” may be the loser of the coming elections to the tougher DerviÅŸ EroÄŸlu. Greece does not want to appear to be under pressure with the likely departure of Talat. In other words, they believe that the dilemma “Talat or EroÄŸlu” is not a real one when it comes to who wants a solution in Cyprus. They insist that the tune is being called by Ankara, whoever the leader is; hence they do not share the anxiety of reaching an agreement before Talat’s likely defeat. But there are other things to consider. 2010 started with a Spanish presidency in the EU, with Spaniards known for their friendly relations with Ankara and this may become a reason for worry for both Greeks and Greek Cypriots. A more “impatient” Turkish side for a solution in Cyprus may bring some hidden cards in favor of the Turkish Cypriots which may fuel more domestic opposition against Christofias. On the other hand, some more careful observers point out that Cyprus politics may also be a battle ground for domestic Turkish politics. It would be interesting, they say, to see whether the recent rise of the level of confrontation between the military and the ErdoÄŸan government will expand to areas of policy traditionally assigned to the military, like Cyprus. In that case, what happens around the Cyprus issue within the next few months can also be seen as a barometer of domestic Turkish politics.

In spite of the generally favorable approach towards Tayyip ErdoÄŸan’s government by Greek commentators, who see the recent turmoil in Turkey as yet another phase of the fight between a democratically elected government against a deeply rooted secularist autocratic and corrupt establishment, Papandreou’s government appears hesitant in rushing to the negotiating table with the Turks. It is also interesting that the traditional position heard so many times during the term of the preceding Karamanlis government that “Greece fully supports Turkey’s accession efforts to the EU” has not been heard so often recently in Athens. Or to put it more correctly, whenever it was heard, it was accompanied by several conditional clauses. Take for example the statements by the new assistant Foreign Minister Mr. D. Dritsas on 23rd of December who promises a new era of “clever Greek diplomacy and a say in international issues.” And his tone becomes characteristically strict when he refers to Turkey: “In our relations with Turkey we speak with straight words and self confidence. We continue to support the accession option, not of today’s Turkey, but of a European Turkey, but not without blank checks. Of a Turkey who would listen carefully to the world leader of Orthodoxy, Patriarch Bartholomew and who would embrace the Ecumenical Patriarchate; of a Turkey who would serve good neighborly relations, who would stop challenging our sovereignty and who would cooperate in curbing illegal immigration, who would not interfere in our internal affairs and who would, at last, free the process for a solution in Cyprus, who would withdraw its military from Cyprus and who would contribute actively to finding a solution on the basis of UN resolutions and European acquis. We seek cooperation with Turkey, we take the initiative, we define the framework, we dictate the pace without haste.”

“Without haste,” says Mr. Dritsas expressing a policy which seems to say for the moment “no” to the “all on the negotiating table” approach proposed by Ankara. Of course, there may be a revival of the “exploratory talks” between the two sides and the resurrection of the “continental shelf issue,” but again there the new Greek government does not seem so keen to risk an unfavorable verdict should the issue be referred by both sides to the Hague.

In domestic politics, the new Greek government has come up with a package of interesting novel ideas in running the country. If they want to be true to their image, they should also pump some fresh air to the chronically stagnant bilateral issues which may result in some contemporary solutions for the benefit of both peoples.

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