Greece talks about toughening stance against Turkey

Greece talks about toughening stance against Turkey

Monday, July 27, 2009
Cold winds are blowing from Athens. Athens sees an increased number of over flights in the Aegean by the Turkish air force as a violation of its air space. It also sees the move by Ankara to launch oil exploration in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, as another sign of hostile policies towards Greece as well as Greek Cyprus

If everything goes according to what she has declared so far, during the first meeting under Swedish Presidency of the Council on General Affairs and External Relations of the European Union, which is taking place today in Brussels, Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis is determined to make a strong issue out of Ankara’s policies over the Aegean.

“We believe that our EU partners must have full knowledge of all the facts, in order to be able to evaluate Turkey, now that Turkey enters a phase of evaluation,” she stated in Chania, Crete, adding that Greece exercises a foreign policy “with the self-confidence and self-assurance of an old member of the union”.  

But her tone was even stricter when assessing the political balances in Turkey:

“Turkey, today, goes through a painful procedure of Europeanization, in a sense, it could even be called a historic (phase). I understand the political, social and economic processes in a country of the size, the geographical position and the history of Turkey … I also understand the internal political realities and the struggle of Mr. Erdogan,” she explained in an exclusive interview to the Eleftherotypia newspaper where she gave important hints about the stance that Greece is planning to adopt during the crucial period of Swedish presidency.

It was in that interview that in a perhaps not-so-diplomatic tone, Mrs. Bakoyannis delivered a strong warning to Erdoğan’s government which, by the way, is itself a frequent user of “strong language” diplomacy.

“There is no room for bravados (she actually used the Turkish rooted word “dayilik”) in the EU”, she said but balanced it by also pointing out “and I am saying this, as an old friend of the Turkish people and a strong supporter of the European course of Turkey. ….Full adjustment-full entry.” But when asked whether the recent tension in the bilateral relationships would be a reason for her to cancel her trip to Ankara –after the invitation of her Turkish counterpart Mr. Davutoğlu-, she kept the door ajar. “As you know our relations with Turkey are multidimensional, our dialogue is continuous even if our positions are diametrically differently….I have already responded positively to the invitation and I will pay this visit …in order for it to be beneficial and productive,” she said.  

There is no doubt that colder winds are blowing now from Athens. Athens sees an increased number of over flights in the Aegean by the Turkish air force as a violation of its air space. It also sees the move by Ankara to launch oil exploration in the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean, as another sign of hostile policies towards Greece as well as Greek Cyprus. Ankara on the other hand wants to discuss the whole range of outstanding issues with Greece as one package. Greece does not accept there is one. In spite of the ongoing discussion by the appointed “wise men” committee there has not been so far a clearly defined strategy-and political will- for both countries take one step forward.

This year has not been an exception so far, in spite of the fact that it will be the termination of the period the EU granted to Turkey in order to adjust its policies to the EU acquis. High expectations created after president’s Obama visit to Turkey that a formula might be found for the re-opening of the Halki Seminary, appear to have been stalled, at least for the moment. The recent negotiations for a solution in Cyprus were meant to be an ‘open ended” process “until a solution was found”. During a recent visit by the Turkish Cypriot leader in Ankara, President Gül expressed Turkey’s wish that “the negotiations to be over by the end of the year”, a wish expressed also by Talat. The Greek Cypriot side is disturbed and Christofias is receiving a barrage of criticism by his opposition. At the same time, Ankara is trying to impress the Europeans through the Nabucco project showing Turkey as an alternative major energy hub for the region.

But it is not only the “erratic” behavior of Turkey that has increased the frustration of Karamanlis government. It is –perhaps more seriously- the fact that since the beginning of the year the Greek government, surviving by the majority of just one deputy- has been under immense fire by the opposition to go for early elections “to clear the mess of corruption, incompetence and mishandling of the economy”.

The recent Euro-elections showed a further drop in its popularity but did not prove to be a “roll over” victory for the main opposition of socialist PASOK part as expected. Instead, the nationalist-ultra right of LAOS with a charismatic leader who once belonged to the governing party of New Democracy, picked a surprising number of votes by pushing policies which included “control of illegal immigrants”, “quotas on immigrants”, increase of policing etc. and, as expected, a “special relationship ”with Turkey in the EU.

One of the most TV-visible LAOS deputies Mr. Kyriakos Velopoulos even suggested an interesting solution to the Greek-Turkish problems. “Shooting down a Turkish F-16 over our Aegean perhaps would have stopped Turkey,” he said during an interview published yesterday in the Greek weekly newspaper RealNews. His analysis suggests that when Turkey has domestic problems it resorts to aggressive policies abroad; a coup in Turkey would not be a surprise for Mr. Velopoulos, who also thinks that Turkey might prefer a special relationship with the EU in order to have “a free hand in the Aegean” which incidentally has oil, otherwise why should Turkey look for it!

The critics of the Greek government accuse it of having become a hostage of LAOS. At any rate the leader of LAOS Yorgo Karatzaferis insists that the two parties “are neighbors in the same apartment block”. Certainly commentators have pointed out that the recent loud protestations of the Greek government against Turkey in the EU platform over the problem of illegal immigrants had something to do with the fiery speeches by the LAOS deputies on the issue.

Mr. Velopoulos does not understand how there can be a gradual improvement in the relations between Greece and Turkey “given the aggressive attitude of our neighbor”; he does not even exclude the possibility of a war.

One might think that a “Greek-Turkish war” scenario coming from an ultra right nationalist party is not surprising bearing in mind that this party is attacking a conservative government for not showing enough “patriotism”.

But a milder version of this came at the same time from the socialist main opposition. George Papandreou whose main political platform has been to attack the government on domestic inefficiencies, came out on Saturday with a sudden prediction of an “increased tension” totally worked out by Ankara and advised the government not to take advantage of it. “The government should not try to benefit from such a possibility in its effort to divert the attention from its adverse political situation and fall into the trap of the intensification (of tension)”, he said talking to his party foreign policy strategists.

Commentators believe that Mr. Papandreou is worried in case Karamanlis goes for an early election in order to benefit from the “tension with Turkey”.  Of course, such a position could not escape from Mrs. Bakoyannis: “I would have expected more responsibility from the leader of the opposition. It is unthinkable that a political leader and indeed someone who has served as a Foreign minister to speak of the government benefiting from a “hot incident”, she said.

There is no doubt that the latter part of the year which coincides with the Swedish presidency will bring the Turkish question again to the front stage. On a regional context, the policies and the attitude of Ankara may influence political developments in Greece depending on how much Athens believes that it can use the Turkey card in order to recover its low credibility at home.

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