‘We have achieved our goals, we did what we wanted to do’

On October 3 [today], if all goes well, Turkey officially begins its negotiations to join the European Union. What is Greece especially hoping for? You are right to use the words «all being well,» because even now as we speak, agreement has not been reached with all member states. There is a minority view that Turkey should not become a full member but have a special, privileged relationship with the European Union. At the same time, over the past few days there has been mounting concern within Turkey as to whether it should begin accession talks by accepting a framework of principles and rules which many in Turkey see as particularly harsh, even unjust, on their country. Personally, I believe it would be a mistake for Turkey to miss this historic opportunity. I would like to tell our neighbors that in Greece there was strong opposition when we were to enter what was then the European Community. The situation now clearly shows what a major mistake we would have made in missing the opportunity. Presuming, although it is not certain, that on Monday Turkey begins accession talks, it will truly be an event of major importance for Turkey’s relations with the EU and the wider region and obviously for Greek-Turkish relations. Greece hopes to consolidate stability and peace in its relations with Turkey, but for that to happen, Turkey has to view our relations from a different – European – standpoint. Respect for good neighborly relations (incompatible with military provocations in the Aegean and with the anachronistic casus belli between a candidate country and an EU member state) must become part of its daily reality. Yet we should not entertain any illusions. None of this will happen from one day to the next but undoubtedly a hopeful future is opening up. Still, Ankara’s stance has been anything but that of a good neighbor. In life, everything takes time, particularly in foreign policy, where no fundamental changes in viewpoint happen overnight. What is important is to create the conditions, motives and terms that will slowly but surely lead to improvements. So I believe that the European counter-declaration, the Negotiating Framework, the acquis communautaire and of course Greece’s interests that have been included in these texts, will influence Turkey’s policy in the direction of peace and stability. It is also important that Greece and the other 24 member states will be the judge of whether Turkey has adapted to European models. Turkey’s behavior has been the basis for criticism, not always ill-intentioned, that Athens was not as demanding as it should have been during talks. I could easily answer that by invoking the often extreme views expressed in Turkey on the strict nature of the terms for (its membership). Turks say that many of those terms are a success for Greece and Cyprus. Criticism from the opposition is part and parcel of the democratic process. The validity of that criticism, however, is another story. We will have the opportunity for a full debate in Parliament in the near future. I think the government handled this crucial issue successfully. All the positions and goals of Greece and Cyprus have been ratified in all the texts on Turkey’s accession negotiations. But I would like to ask how many of the things that the opposition is demanding had the previous government achieved in its 20 years in power? The turning point in any country’s EU accession process is to acquire the status of a candidate country. When Turkey was trying to acquire the status of candidate country, the then-PASOK government could not secure what it is now demanding. In fact, it had said then that it took that decision as a goodwill gesture to Turkey without asking for anything in return. The Helsinki and Copenhagen documents confirm that without a doubt. The only conditions raised at the time for Turkey’s future in Europe were exclusively the political criteria set in Copenhagen in 1993 that were not related to our own problems. That is the reality and it should not be forgotten or glossed over. It was the prime minister’s public statement (in an interview on CNN) that Greece would not veto Turkey’s EU process that caused comment. Let us first clarify that the prime minister never said Greece would not exercise its right to veto. He referred to the self-evident, saying that if one does exercise a veto, it is proof that one’s policy and arguments have failed to convince and that one is isolated. But that does not mean that one abandons the (right to) veto. We have achieved our goals, we did what we wanted to do, without needing to resort to a veto. That is the right policy and that is in our country’s favor. Is there a «bottom line» for Greece’s diplomacy regarding Turkey’s future in the EU? For example, what would result in a Greek veto at any stage? You realize it is not appropriate to enter into any discussion on this. I would say that the important thing is not to set out areas and «bottom lines» at this point, purely on the basis of hypotheses and scenarios. What is really important is to have, as a country and a government, the will, the determination and the credibility not only to define but to honor one’s «bottom lines.» The Karamanlis government has the will, determination and credibility to do that.