Attack on Iraq will make job harder for Greek presidency of the EU, says official

In an interview in Sunday’s Kathimerini, Deputy Foreign Minister Tassos Yiannitsis said the prospect of military intervention in Iraq during the current Greek presidency of the European Union would affect the speed as well as the content of the decision-making process among the 15 member states. Yiannitsis also said that the EU’s social policy would not be «pushed into a corner» over the next six months and that Athens intended to undertake initiatives to support a European orientation for Balkan countries and Turkey, if the latter chose to move in that direction. «Turkey itself has the key to the outcome,» said Yiannitsis. The minister promised that the duties of the presidency would not cause delays in the government’s work on the domestic front, emphasizing the many benefits to Greece that would not be limited to the six months of the presidency itself. Greece is assuming the presidency at a crucial time. The question is how much a possible war against Iraq will affect not only the management of issues over the next six months but the EU itself after enlargement. First of all we are embarking on the presidency with the prospect of furthering many EU issues, both large and small, whether or not there is a military intervention in Iraq. We believe that our success in the presidency will depend on the decisions that we make or at least move ahead with. It is realistic to say that both the speed of the decision-making process and the content of those decisions would be affected by a climate of war. A war never leaves things as they were. If the economic situation is negatively affected, decisions of all kinds will be made more difficult. We should support decisions that allow for a faster way out of a negative economic situation. The duration of any military conflict is also of great significance. There are many factors. Is it likely that the EU and Greece, as president, would intervene in a war by the US and some of its allies against Baghdad, and what form might such initiatives take? Three countries in the EU (France, Britain and Germany) are on the UN Security Council and they will play a decisive part in developments. The EU as a whole and Greece as president will have to see what common ground there is. As you know, decisions on foreign policy have to be unanimous. The job of the presidency is to work toward achieving a common stance. If this is not possible, naturally the presidency itself is not responsible. However, there is always the «day after» – after the war. One of the issues the Greek presidency will be dealing with is strengthening social policy. How can this kind of question be resolved during a period of stagnation, if not recession, and what can Greece do about it during the presidency? Social policy is the weak point in European policy. Things cannot be turned around from one half-year to the next. However, precisely because of the economic situation it is important that the presidency puts an emphasis on this aspect of policy. Employment, job security, workers’ rights, immigration issues, discrimination, policies against inequality and poverty, toward confidence in the future, should all be important for a presidency and should not be pushed into a corner. For the moment, the only Balkan country included in the EU’s enlargement is Slovenia, with positive prospects for Bulgaria and Romania. Does the Greek presidency intend to undertake initiatives to move this process ahead? The Balkans are our neighborhood and we have an strong interest in consolidating stability, prospects for growth and a European orientation in these states. We support this process because the risks for some regions are still great and because as a Balkan country we feel a responsibility to bring these countries closer to Europe. So we have undertaken to convene a European conference of heads of state right after the signing of the enlargement treaty in April and a major conference with all the Balkan states immediately after the Thessaloniki Council in June. At both of these events there will be opportunities to raise major issues of interest to both sides. The Copenhagen decision regarding EU-Turkish relations did not satisfy Turkey to any great extent. Could the Greek presidency create conditions for a more functional contact between Turkey and the EU? During our presidency, the EU-Turkey «association agreement,» which refers to many issues, will be revived. Europe is interested in Turkey, Greece supports Turkey’s course toward Europe and so there are all the prerequisites for a more constructive turn of events. Of course Turkey must also do everything required of a candidate for membership. At the moment, Turkey is making choices about whether to be more active about this process. Turkey itself has the key. We are able and willing to support it. In mid-April, Cyprus and the other nine new states will sign the treaty of accession to the EU. What, if any, negative effects will Cyprus’s accession have on the resolution of the political problem on the island? Accession with a resolution of the problem after negotiations based on (UN Secretary-General Kofi) Annan’s proposal would open up a prospect for Cyprus that is more dynamic, more unifying for its people, more independent of the bonds tying the Turkish-Cypriot community to Turkey. Look at how much the people in the occupied sector want a solution to the problem and accession. They want it because the benefits are so visible and powerful, and their leaders’ negative stance is such a dead end. If Cyprus resolves the political problem, after the bitter experience of the past 50 years, and joins the European Union, it could move ahead with greater confidence, with greater influence in the EU and stronger economic performance.

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