EU enlargement and Greek-Turkish relations in retrospective


The long established framework of Greek-Turkish relations has been defined by divergent views on the motives of state international behavior and the means used to achieve national goals. Greek revised policy vis-à-vis Turkey has facilitated Ankara´s European orientation. For long, Athens had been the only evident hurdle in Turkey´s EU accession, although several partners had expressed their reservations. Eventually Greek strategic reorientation constitutes a turning point not fully appreciated by both Brussels and Ankara itself. At the same time the Greek side pinpointed the revisionist character of Turkish foreign policy, a tendency that almost by default sets Turkey outside the acceptable by the EU mode of international behavior.

Turkish foreign policy has been formulated within a clear spectrum of political Realism, namely the use of military power, coercion and the threat of war. Actually this is the very basic and fundamental element that distinguishes Turkey from other prospective EU members. In the long and painful history of European integration Turkey constitutes the first revisionist state that wishes to join the EU. The peculiarities of Turkish membership lie in a number of parameters, namely refusal to recognize an existing EU member (Cyprus), challenging the territorial status vis-à-vis an EU member state (Greece), showing inability to abide by EU law and effectively conclude the accession criteria, as well as set an efficient legal and operational framework of controlling the military.

The above issues have become the axis of Greek diplomacy as suggested by the recent statements of Greek foreign Minster in the Centre for European Politics in Brussels. Under the current circumstances of international economic crisis Turkish membership constitutes one of the greatest challenges ever in the history of European integration and sets ontological questions about the relative and overall merit of further enlarging the EU. The issue of Turkey joining the EU constitutes a major challenge to Europe´s capacity of integrating and absorbing new members

For long the EU has been unable or unwilling to set an acceptable to Greece frame-work of resolving incompatibilities between Athens and Ankara. The problem stems from the fact that the EU is not and can not operate as a conflict resolution mechanism. Under this spectrum Greek security considerations are primarily, if not entirely, tackled through the realist prism of self-help. International law has proved inadequate to deal with Turkish militaristic bravado, and this is one only indicative case of the flexibility that characterizes international politics. Evidently power and more particu-larly military power has been the defining element of doing politics.

Negotiation and bargaining have always been an element of international politics. Yet, in the case of Greek-Turkish relations this aim has been used only as a means of revising the political map. Turkey and Greece could actually be the pioneers of an or-chestrated initiative aiming at triggering an inter-cultural, inter-civilisational approach yet, this is still impossible due to the competing models of exercising foreign policy adopted by the two countries. At a time the world is facing the spectrum of high unemployment and acute social problems a certain milieu in Ankara wishes to perpetu-ate a policy which is by definitions against the common European ideals that brought EU members together.

At the end of the line lies the issue of a struggle between modernity and old-fashioned thinking. European integration has originally been centered about the dilemma of choosing between peace and war in the old continent. In the case of Greek-Turkish relations this is not the case although the coming to power of T. Erdogan created great expectations.

To this day changes in Turkey are superficial and question two of the fundamental elements of European integration, namely common values and the required sense of community [1]. These have become the compass of the integrative processinaugurated in the early 1950s.

Turkish problems may be summarized indicatively on several axes. The first refers to issues of national identity, the second the Turkish national system of values, the third to its adaptability to a normative system of governance with clear operating principles in the sphere of public policy. The fourth is related to the redistribution of power within Turkey and the emergence role of the political elite. The fifth refers to a new framework of social stratification and the formulation of an egalitarian society. Finally, on a bilateral axis it refers to the EU´s ability to resolve Greek-Turkish relations and demilitarize Turkish foreign policy.

The above refer directly and/or indirectly to the national system value of the country, its political tradition and the catalytic role of the military in domestic politics, the quality of its democracy and its operating as a less mature democracy. To European-ists these elements constitute a negative input to the European integration equation and eventually weaken the vision of those who would like to see a political Europe, an EU operating as primus inter pares in world politics and not a junior partner within the transatlantic framework.

Under this spectrum Turkish EU membership constitutes a challenge to be scrutinized in three parallel and interconnected levels formulated within a cost-gain analysis. One refers to he challenges to Turkey itself as well as its transformation to a genuine plu-ralistic and democratic society and political system. A second is bound the affect the EU´s capacity of successfully absorbing new members and a third refers to the Greek-Turkish relations. All of the above will have to be answered in relation to the strategic orientation of Europe and its ability to impose unquestionable norms of international behavior.

In the first case Turkish membership demands substantial changes in the overall dis-tribution of power within the country itself. More particularly it demands the emer-gence of a new, modernizing pro-Europeanist political elite and the efficient control of the military. Democratization is not just a nominal goal referring to institutions and a value system. It also relates to the ability to convert a heavily militarized society into a pluralistic society where the military are under the efficient control of the po-litical elite. This has been a non-negotiable prerequisite for existing EU members that can not be bargained for. In effect these changes are expected to result from the total re-arrangement of the balance between political and military elites. On a socio-political level these are bound to produce resistance and a head-on collision that might destabilize the country.

A second prerequisite is the rejection of long-standing ideologies that evaluate other-ness as an actual threat to the Turkish society and the process of establishing a nation-state. As plausibly suggested, it was the state apparatus and the bureaucracy [2] that led to the establishment of a nation after the creation of the modern Turkish state [3] and the formulation of a state-warrior [4].

In effect it was a bureaucratic mechanism that led to the establishment of a national consciousness at the expense of alternative identities that had to be suppressed at any cost and by all means. Practically the process refers to the concept of “national issue” that dictated policies towards ethnic [5] and religious minorities [6].

The above inherent deficiencies should not be used as an aphorism but a basis of evaluating Turkish EU membership within a clear political spectrum with the aim of making Europe politically stronger and more democratic. In the case of Greece-Turkish relations EU candidacy has not altered the essence of Turkish foreign policy. Under this spectrum militarism is still an inherent feature of state behaviour. As a result, Greece has no alternative but to build its strategy on deterrence policies to withstand the long adopted coercion strategy on the part of Ankara.

Greek strategy should be formulated within a framework that takes into consideration a number of defining parameters. First, state behavior can not change overnight. Sec-ond Turkey´s EU accession is “an open-ended process” with no guarantees of success. Third, Athens can not depend on its EU partners when it comes to national security issues. Finally, to this day the peaceful resolution of any Greek-Turkish incompatibilities has not been a prerequisite for Turkey´s EU membership. [7]

1] See the full analysis in George Voskopoulos, The European Union, Institutions, Policies, Challenges, Dilemmas, Epikentro publishers, Thessaloniki, 2008.

2] See Ian O. Lesser, Turkey, Greece and the U.S. in a Changing Strategic Environ-ment, Testimony Before the House International Relations Committee, Europe Sub-committee, June 13, 2001.

3] See Document of Mutual Understanding, A Proposal for the Democratisation of the Political System and Solution of the Kurdish Problem in Turkey, Center for the Research of Societal Problems, Ankara, 5-6-2000.

4] See Mastny, Vojtech & K. Craig Nation, Turkey between East and West, New challenge for a rising regional power, Westview Press 1996, p. 144.

5] See Dogu Ergil, “The Kurdish Question in Turkey,” Journal of Democracy, n. 11, July 2000, pp. 122–135.

6] See “Turkey and its Christians”, The Economist, June 25th 2005, pp. 34-35

7] For a full analysis see George Voskopoulos, Turkey, Greece and EU enlargement:

Dilemmas, challenges, costs and gains, VIII Greek-German Symposium, Institute for Balkan Studies and Sudosteuropa Gesellschaft, Thessaloniki, May 2008


Source: American Chronicle

Dr. George Voskopoulos

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