COMMENT

Mr President, it’s up to you to improve relations

TOM ELLIS

TAGS: Turkey, Diplomacy

Athens wants to upgrade not just improve Greek-Turkish relations and invited President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the capital in this context. It is in this spirit that it is prepared to discuss all the major issues weighing on relations between the two countries, whether they are bilateral differences or have an international dimension such as the Cyprus problem and the refugee crisis.

The visit is an opportunity for the Turkish strongman to show similar intentions and demonstrate the necessary prudence by taking the initiative. There are many issues and they are serious. They will not be resolved in one visit, but such a visit can help change the climate.

The onus falls on Mr Erdogan; he is the leader of the more powerful country, although the correlation of forces at play is a more complex equation than it might look, if one factors in Turkey’s open front at the southeast and the weakening of the Turkish armed forces, especially the air force, due to the purges after the failed coup.

As far as some of the main issues are concerned, the refugee crisis is a humanitarian crisis that can not be used to pressure the EU with Athens being a victim.

In the Aegean, exploratory talks are the only way to find a working settlement, which cannot though ignore the rights that stem from the Law of the Sea.

As for the eight Turkish servicemen, Mr Erdogan’s criticism of Athens is unfair and ignores that the Greek justice system is independent. A European Union member cannot be criticised for not interfering with the judiciary.

With regard to the Cyprus issue, it is obviously absurd and anachronistic for a third country to guarantee the proper functioning of a full EU member country and to maintain troops on its soil. There are other ways to ensure the safety of the Turkish Cypriots.

Mr Erdogan understands that Greece can play a role in the Euro-Turkish puzzle. At a time when many European countries do not want Turkey – and many of them have said so in no uncertain terms – Greece opposes an all-out rupture in relations and argues that the link between the EU and Turkey should be preserved, even if it becomes apparent that the country’s full integration into the bloc is too difficult.

Greece honestly believes in a European Turkey. It not only believes in this, it also supports it, not only within the EU but also beyond it, as the recent statements by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras during his press conference with Donald Trump at the White House have illustrated.

During this visit to a European capital, Mr Erdogan is being called upon to see the long-term strategic benefits for his country and to behave accordingly.

By his actions inside Turkey and his rhetoric against other countries, the Turkish president leads his country to isolation. However, he realises that he does not have the luxury of a complete break with Europe. From this perspective, he has every reason to try build bridges – and Greece is the best choice to do that.

He can start with three easy steps, without any cost to himself or his country. First, he could withdraw the anachronistic and unacceptable casus belli, the official threat of war against Greece. He could also tone down Turkey’s delinquent behaviour in the Aegean, especially in regard to air space violations, which may lead to a serious accident – you don’t need 3,000 flights to get your positions across. And thirdly, he must listen to his mind and not follow his heart when he speaks in Thrace.

These three steps would improve the climate and facilitate progress, without the Turkish president having to make any concessions.
 

Online