Cyprus Decides, Greece FollowsΝοέ 8th, 2006 | Τάκης Μίχας| Κατηγορία: English, Ελλάδα, Κόσμος | Email This Post | Print This Post |
The Wall Street Journal Europe
November 6, 2006
By Takis Michas
Greece faces a serious foreign policy dilemma. On the one hand, Athens supports Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. On the other hand, it also supports, officially at least, the policies of the Greek Cypriot leadership. Thus Greece may inadvertently end up helping derail Turkey’s EU accession.
At present, Brussels and Ankara seem to be heading for collision. Foreign ministers from Turkey, Greece, both sides of the divided island and current EU president Finland were supposed to gather this weekend to discuss a transport dispute between Cyprus and Turkey. But the meeting fell through.
The EU wants Turkey to open its ports and airports to vessels and planes from EU member Cyprus this year under a customs union protocol it signed in 2005. Turkey refuses. It argues that Brussels has failed to honour a pledge to lift the economic and political blockade of the Turkish Cypriots in return for their support for a U.N.-backed reunification plan. Brussels insists that these two issues are not formally linked. EU diplomats acknowledge in private, though, that ethically such a linkage does exist.
The Finish EU Presidency had hoped to break the deadlock during negotiations in Helsinki. Their compromise proposal would have obliged Turkey to extend “at some point” the customs agreement to the Republic of Cyprus. In return, northern Cyprus’ Farmagusta port would have been opened for Turkish Cypriots to trade under U.N. supervision. The meeting’s last-minute cancellation further darkens Ankara’s prospects for joining the EU. Recent press leaks say the European Commission’s next report card on Turkey, due this week, will already be very critical. Apart from the Cyprus dispute, Brussels is expected to slam Turkey’s alleged lack of progress on human and civil rights issues.
How will a Turkish-EU crisis affect Greek-Turkish relations and consequently the stability of the region? When I recently interviewed Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bacoyannis, she insisted that this is purely a problem of Turkey complying with EU requirements. As such, it should not affect the relations between the two countries. “Besides”, she added “ Cyprus is only one of many issues plaguing Turkey’s EU membership negotiations”.
Some analysts disagree. “If negotiations with Turkey get derailed over Cyprus,” says Professor Alexis Iraklidis of Panteion University of Athens, “Turkey will hold Greece directly responsible because of its unwillingness to confront the hard-line policies of the Greek Cypriot leadership.”
Such a development would be especially hard for Ms. Bacoyannis. Since she assumed office last spring she has made Turkey’s EU accession a cornerstone of her foreign policy. At the same time, though, she has not introduced any policy changes in her country’s foreign policy on this issue. That policy can be summed up as “Cyprus decides, Greece follows.”
Unlike Ankara, which is actively engaged in shaping the policy of the Turkish Cypriots, Athens seems increasingly content to accept whatever Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos offers. In April 2004, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan played a very constructive role in convincing Turkish Cypriots to support a U.N. plan to reunify the island. Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, however, simply let things run their course. In the end, the Turkish Cypriots voted overwhelmingly in favour of the U.N. plan. But the Greek Cypriots, following their president’s plea, rejected it.
The only significant difference between Athens and Nicosia, according to diplomatic sources, concerns their attitudes toward U.S. efforts to mediate. Greece welcomes such efforts while the Greek Cypriots believe that any such attempt is just a ploy to promote Turkish interests at their cost.
To this day the Greek Cypriot leadership opposes lifting the economic and political restrictions on their Turkish neighbors. They argue that this would be the first step to the international recognition of a sovereign Turkish Cypriot State. As a consequence, Turkish Cypriots cannot engage in direct trade with the international community. And they have no voice in EU institutions.
Most diplomats are gloomy about the possibilities of ever striking a deal. But there are exceptions. “If you force me to make a guess, I see lots of reason for hope,” U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Mathew Bryza told me last month. “Nobody wants this train wreck to occur. Neither the Greek government nor the government of the Republic of Cyprus want to derail Turkey’s accession. They all agree that at the end of the day the Eastern Mediterranean is a more stable and prosperous region as long as Turkey is reforming and modernizing and fulfilling the criteria of EU membership.”
This may be so. But in matters of so-called “national importance,” Greek politicians are just like their American or Turkish counterparts. Unfortunately, they tend to follow the dictates of public opinion polls rather than those of reason.