NEWS

EU force alternative

Prime Minister Costas Simitis, on a visit to Brussels, said yesterday that Greece would present its own proposals for the planned European rapid reaction force, without specifying a timetable. «We said we will make new proposals and we will make these new proposals,» Simitis told a news conference. The creation of the force has run into objections from Turkey, a NATO but not an EU member, which demands a say in its use, fearing it might be used either against its forces that have occupied the northern third of Cyprus since 1974, or in other areas it deems of «strategic interest,» such as the lands where the Kurds live in eastern Turkey, western Iran and northern Iraq. The rapid reaction force, planned to be operational by 2003, when it will be able to assemble within 60 days and be deployed anywhere for 12 months, is expected to function in coordination with NATO. Without guaranteed NATO assistance, the EU might find itself forced to set up costly parallel planning infrastructure for peacekeeping and other missions. Last month, representatives from the USA and Great Britain agreed on a «compromise» with Turkey, accepting almost all Turkish demands. Greece has rejected this agreement. «I’ll tell you what is not acceptable to us… That a country working with the European Union or a NATO member should be able to say that in such and such an area we can’t have a joint action, for example, joint exercises, because in this particular area we have political reservations or claims, or we deem that it is a situation where such and such a border is unjustified,» Simitis said. He added there should be simple rules on deployment of the EU force rather than «many, many details on specific scenarios» to satisfy Turkey. On the issue of bilateral talks with Turkey, Simitis said that «there has been progress… But, to proceed further, we need a clear indication that (Turkey) will abandon its past aggressive behavior.» Simitis, who met with European Commission President Romano Prodi and the other Commissioners, said that he hoped negotiations with aspiring EU members, including Cyprus, will be concluded during Greece’s six-month presidency of the European Union – in the first half of 2003. Asked about Turkey’s candidacy, Simitis replied that he and the Commission members agreed that it did not fulfill any of the political or economic criteria for admission. Turkey has not yet begun talks with EU on its accession.