NEWS

New directions for Greece?

Faced with the suspicion not only of Nicosia, but also of some of the Greek foreign policy establishment and, for different reasons, the majority of New Democracy deputies, newly appointed Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis must tread carefully, at least in the early stages. Meanwhile, those in the international community who rejoiced at her appointment are expecting drastic action from her. And while one might ignore the Turks, the same does not apply to the Americans. Formulating foreign policy is obviously not the exclusive responsibility of the minister of the day. But when the minister is a person of great political autonomy such as Bakoyannis, she will not simply act as the prime minister’s agent. In many ways she will put her own stamp on policy, which she will make a substantial contribution to formulating. International pressure This is not necessarily bad, though it could be if the new minister’s views matched powerful international pressures and augmented them. This would pressure Maximos Mansion, more or less forcing it to adapt. Events have shown that it responds timidly to the inevitable dilemmas of foreign policy and in particular in the realm of Greek-American relations. The fact that it is in this sense rather vulnerable to transatlantic pressure may broaden Bakoyannis’s role. The premier will not be steered into a dramatic reversal of foreign policy, but even small variations in that sphere can have great significance and consequences. Washington had no reason to be dissatisfied with her predecessor, Petros Molyviatis, not only because he was an Atlanticist by conviction and tradition, but because in some instances he was conciliatory to the point of prompting serious criticism. His conciliatory stance arose from his often exaggerated notion of what resistance might cost Greece. Without saying as much, the Americans were wary of him, because they correctly guessed that there was a limit to just how conciliatory he would be in matters of direct national interest. Although they could never directly blame him due to careful management, they did hold him responsible for the fact that, at the crucial moment, the government of Costas Karamanlis was unwilling to sign up to the Annan plan for Cyprus and, above all, refused to put pressure on Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos. It was not by chance that Molyviatis made a point of mentioning this in his farewell speech, in which he also hinted at the difference between his approach and that of Bakoyannis, who at that time had brought pressure to bear on the Greek Cypriots. The new minister does not have the same grasp of geopolitical events as her predecessor, nor his restraint and limits. She also takes a different view of the national interest. In contrast to his traditional, measured, rather statist diplomacy, Bakoyannis belongs to the new school of diplomacy-as-public-relations, to the extent that she might be described as a diplomatic busybody. In other words, she is more like George Papandreou, in both style and substance. It is no coincidence that Washington has privileged relations with both of them, and that Ankara prefers them. Crucial difference It was a Turkish newspaper that dubbed Bakoyannis the «female George,» but it could easily have been a US paper. The vital difference is that the new minister has much less room to maneuver than Papandreou did. When he was foreign minister, it was a time of sowing hopes for constructive understanding. Six-and-a-half-years on, those hopes have pretty much withered. The Turks believe the time of germination has passed and that it is time to reap. Not only have they retained their expansionist policy unaltered, but they are bringing pressure to bear in an attempt to extract benefits over the Aegean. And they would exert much greater pressure if their EU accession was not a greater priority. In Greek-Turkish relations, Molyviatis stuck to the line of keeping Ankara’s expansionism in check, but he changed the policy of former prime minister Costas Simitis and Papandreou for an overall solution on the Aegean, in the correct belief that Greece would be the loser. So, without breaking off the series of so-called exploratory talks, he did put an end to the informal negotiations. The question is whether Bakoyannis will continue to change policy on Greek-Turkish relations. The Americans would like that but what they mainly want is no interruption to Turkey’s EU prospects. They would like to see new action on removing the Cyprus obstacle. If they manage to impose a new version of the Annan plan, so much the better. They would not mind putting a diplomatic squeeze on Nicosia and blaming it for the failure so as to relieve Ankara of its commitments to the EU relating to the Republic of Cyprus. As it is, the US is waiting to see what the new Greek FM will do about Cyprus. In particular they expect her to put pressure on Papadopoulos. Diplomatic rhetoric will probably invoke the need to solve the Cyprus issue, but the real political aim is to get Nicosia in a corner. Bakoyannis is too experienced to commit political suicide. Especially after the expressed opposition to her appointment, she has little room to move, at least for the present. Typically she immediately tried to play down the general suspicion by dispelling the impression that she would take a different line on foreign policy. She also communicated promptly with Papadopoulos, offering him strong assurances. Along the same lines was her statement that the «Annan plan is over and done with.» This was a turnabout, because she herself stated that the solution to the Cyprus question must rest on three things: «the [EU’s] acquis communautaire, UN resolutions and the Annan plan.» Regardless of how each side sees it, that is also Nicosia’s position. The Americans will understand the difficulties facing the new minister and avoid putting unbearable pressure on her. They will give her time, but not a lot, as the matter is pressing. Diplomatic contacts and the upcoming meeting between Papadopoulos and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan are harbingers of a new diplomatic initiative on Cyprus. Athens cannot oppose Washington without paying some price, but in this uneven balance of power, there are some limits. During Molyviatis’s term, Greek diplomacy kept a safe distance from those limits. The big question for Bakoyannis is not whether she will move even further away from those limits but whether she will set in motion processes that take national matters down a slippery slope.