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Erdoğan’s landmark trip to Greece May 26, 2010

Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Turkey, Yunanistan.
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Even though it was to attend an informal summit of Balkan countries, the decision of George Papandreou to make his first foreign trip to Istanbul days after the October 4, 2009 election victory, which brought his Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement, or PASOK, to government in Athens, was an important diplomatic gesture, demonstrating a strong political will for improved relations with Ankara. By accepting the unofficial Balkan summit invitation from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and making his Oct. 8 trip to Turkey, Papandreou parted from the established Greek tradition of making his first visit as prime minister to the Greek Cypriot-administered Republic of Cyprus.

Both during the election campaign and in the immediate aftermath of his coming to power there was indeed immense optimism that Papandreou would steer relations of Greece with Turkey into a new era with increased prospects of a resolution to the perennial problems between the two countries, as well as the Cyprus quagmire. Yet, within weeks Papandreou, Greece, the European Union and the entire world discovered why the conservative New Democracy Party leader Costas Karamanlis called for early elections midway through his second four-year term in government: a battered economy and inability to hide further scandalous governance of the conservatives, who tried to fool the world with distorted economic indicators as if Greece was doing fine…

Since then, not only Greece but the entire eurozone have been trying to battle the Greek crisis and other euro economies, which are giving signals they might be at the edge of collapse as well. Only last week, thanks to France and Germany, a gigantic emergency fund has been decided that, besides aiming at instilling confidence in the eurozone, was also a strong message to speculators that Europe is determined to fight them through a collective [economic] defense commitment. The move of course was one designed to avoid a European and consequently a global economic meltdown.

But, as the prime minister of a country fighting its own economic survival, Papandreou, excluding delivering some platonic and romantic statements reaffirming his commitment for improved relations with Ankara or a resolution on Cyprus, could not have undertaken any of the much hoped for moves for a rapprochement with Turkey or a push for a quick resolution to the problem of power sharing between Greek and Turkish peoples of the eastern Mediterranean island.

Yet, for most Turks Papandreou remains to be the “most trusted Greek leader” and even the name of Papandreou provides reason to be optimistic for future ties, a phenomenon partly the legacy of the 1990s when Papandreou and Turkey’s late foreign minister İsmail Cem sowed the seeds of rapprochement.

Accompanied by a large group of leading Turkish businessmen and ten members of the Turkish cabinet, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will travel today to Greece. From many aspects, the visit will be of great importance.

First of all, with this visit Erdoğan will become the first-ever Turkish premier to officially visit Greece.

Secondly, at the official talks “everything” – from the Aegean problems to the Cyprus issue, the situation of the Western Thrace Turks and the Greek minority of Turkey, Turkish-EU relations and economic cooperation prospects – will be on the negotiating table.

Thirdly, with the participation of ten members of the Turkish cabinet and ten members of the Greek cabinet, Erdoğan and his host Papandreou will convene a “high level strategic cooperation council” or some sort of a joint Turkish-Greek council of ministers meeting, where possibilities of cooperation in many areas will be explored. The two countries have already agreed on the principle of convening the “high level strategic cooperation council” once a year on the basis of rotation. Thus, around this time next year the council – if Papandreou can visit Ankara – will convene in Ankara and review the results of the decisions adopted in this forthcoming first meeting in Athens. Such meetings convening routinely every year will of course help energize and accelerate relations between the two countries.

Participation of some 100 leading Turkish businessmen in the visit of Erdoğan to Greece, on the other hand, is of course a gesture to Papandreou, whose country is passing through one of its worst economic periods.

Last but not least, with the visit, not a leader of any of the EU partners of Greece – but Erdoğan – will become the first foreign leader to travel to Athens in this crisis period.

There are speculations that Erdoğan will be traveling to Athens with a “package deal” that includes many hot topics, such as reopening the Halki seminary, construction of a mosque in Athens, waiving visa requirement for short tourist trips by Turks to the Aegean islands, restrictions on military maneuvers in the Aegean and measures to cut defense spending and a joint reaffirmation of the two leaders to support a negotiated lasting settlement on Cyprus.

Erdoğan’s visit, even if it produces no tangible result, will be a great step towards better Turkish-Greek relations.



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