Foreign policy

As the government enters the new year, it will be called upon to make its own mark on foreign policy after months of administering issues left over from the past. Since April, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis and senior ministry officials have been virtually obliged to operate within the framework (and in some cases a tight one indeed) created by the previous governments of Costas Simitis. The critical UN-mediated talks on the Cyprus issue at Burgenstock, as well as the latest EU summit, when it was decided to give Turkey a date to begin membership talks, were obvious examples of past commitments held over. The Karamanlis government had very little room to maneuver. In the meantime, some steps were taken toward establishing a new framework for foreign policy during the prime minister’s trips to Washington, Cairo and Moscow, where attempts were made to open up channels of communication that could prove useful at a later date; the same applies to a visit to Beijing scheduled for the near future. A decision to begin new procedures, characterized as «urgent,» aimed at resolving the dispute with the neighboring Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the use of the name «Macedonia» will be the final chapter in dealing with issues carried over from previous administrations. This is where the goverment will be judged on the substance and the effectiveness of its decisions in a series of challenges. As Greece takes up its non-permanent membership of the UN Security Council for the next two very interesting years, it will have to ask itself whether it is acting as a European country, as an ally of the US or as a partner of Russia. The question of the name used by FYROM will probably be settled by summer. Greece will have to decide how it wants to deal with a country that everyone else calls simply «Macedonia.» New developments are expected on the Cyprus issue in view of the beginning of Turkey’s EU membership talks next October and in light of Ankara’s need to sign a customs union protocol with Nicosia by that time. A decision will need to be made regarding the doctrine «Cyprus decides and Greece supports it.» Greek-Turkish relations will have to be adapted to the new environment created by Ankara’s future in Europe. Here, Greece will have to decide how tolerant of Turkey’s provocations it wishes to be. Certain decisions Karamanlis and his government will be making on the domestic front will also be crucial for the outcome of foreign policy. One is whether Karamanalis will keep Petros Molyviatis on as foreign minister in a future reshuffle. Greece’s top diplomat is widely viewed, and not only by the government, as the best person for the job. Of course, the deputy minister, Yiannis Valinakis, is seen as an excellent reserve, but for the moment there seems to be no better solution than the current team, although Valinakis could be upgraded to alternate minister. A second matter concerns the changes that could be forthcoming to the structure and personnel of the diplomatic team, both within the ministry and at embassies abroad. Finally, one wonders about what attempts will be made to adjust the many assumptions held by the Greek public regarding key aspects of the national interest. Sometimes these have provoked reflex actions, usually negative ones, among many, which led to defensive, inflexible foreign policy decisions.