Greece gives up naysaying role on Turkey’s EU entry

In international organizations where the principle of unanimity applies, whenever one member proposes the rejection of a request, all the other members who basically agree remain silent, thus avoiding displeasing the country that submitted the [original] request. This is a common tactic in multilateral diplomacy. During the 1990s, Greece adopted the «unpleasant» role in the EU whenever the issue arose of Turkey’s candidacy for accession to the European family. The fact that Greece appeared to be the sole EU member out of the 15 to raise objections only worsened what were already tense relations between Athens and Ankara. As the Greek ambassador to Germany for five years at that time, I repeatedly advised the Greek government to notify the EU that Greece intended to end her opposition, therefore allowing the remaining EU members to reveal their true intentions. That advice was given upon reliable information I had received which made it clear that Germany took a negative view of the accession of Turkey because free movement within EU countries would result in countless Turks moving to Germany, in addition to the existing 2.5 million Turkish residents. The Greek government’s standard response was that acceptance of Turkish candidacy would carry a high domestic political cost. When Greece did decide, at Helsinki, to give its approval to Turkey as a prospective member, Germany and France, two of the most important EU countries, showed their true colors. Then for the first time objections of a geographical, cultural and religious nature were cited by those opposing the Turkish candidacy. The former Christian Democrat German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had already expressed his opposition after withdrawing from power, while former Social Democrat Chancellor Helmut Schmidt announced «compelling reasons because of which a complete admission of Turkey should be avoided» in an article of December 12, 2002 (in view of the Copenhagen Convention) in Die Zeit. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung kept publishing, throughout most of December, articles against setting a specific date for starting negotiating Turkey’s admission. An article dated December 11 stated that «geographical and strategic interests cannot justify Turkey’s admission, because such matters fall within NATO’s competence.» Two days later, an article was published containing statistics showing that in 2025 Turkey would have the largest population in the EU, while another article referred to the possibility of «de-Europeanization» in the case of Turkish admission. Valery Giscard d’Estaing, former president of France and current president of the Convention for the Future of Europe, recently said that EU talk about Turkey is two-faced. While most EU members appear well-disposed to Turkish admission because of American pressure, they are actually hiding behind the argument that Turkey does not fulfill the criteria established at the Copenhagen Convention. Except for a few articles in The Guardian, London has no objections, given that it goes along completely with the views of Washington, which it expressed at European Council meetings. Also of interest is what Romano Prodi, president of the European Commission, said in Athens when asked about Turkey. Prodi stressed the need to start discussions on the future borders of Europe, adding that Europe has «both natural and geographical borders which we should take into consideration.» From the Greek point of view, if Turkey behaved toward Greece in accordance with the code of conduct that governs relations among EU members, it would benefit relations between Athens and Ankara. However, that is far from saying that «Turkey has been a European country since the 16th century» (a recent official statement). Instead one should keep in mind the ancient Greek saying: «Moderation is all.» (1) Ioannis Bourloyiannis-Tsangaridis is a former Greek ambassador to Germany.