NEWS

Hope for Euroforce

Athens said yesterday that it would lift its objections to the operations of the EU’s nascent defense force if a proposed solution protecting Greece’s national interests were accepted. This came out of a meeting between Prime Minister Costas Simitis, Foreign Minister George Papandreou and Defense Minister Yiannos Papantoniou who discussed the efforts being made with the EU’s Spanish presidency to work out a compromise. This could end an impasse that has seen Greece holding out against its 14 EU partners’ efforts to get the force operational in time to take over peacekeeping operations in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia this fall. But Simitis pointed out during the meeting that Athens should remain alert until the EU summit in Seville on June 20-21, saying that «nothing is finalized and we are not at the point that we want.» Greece objects to a deal worked out between the USA, Britain and Turkey (known as the «Ankara text») giving Ankara a say in the EU force’s operations in areas such as the Aegean and Cyprus in exchange for allowing the force to use NATO assets. The core of the compromise acceptable to Athens is an amendment to the text’s second paragraph that will rule out a NATO member attacking an EU member – an implicit reference to Turkey and Greece. At the three-hour meeting, Papandreou and Papantoniou presented various ideas which, government sources said, differed only in some details. Papantoniou, however, is said to believe that the changes justify his initial demand that the Ankara text be changed. Papandreou made clear that Athens will stick to its right to veto any decision on the force until the compromise is finalized. «We want to secure our country’s interests. From the moment we can secure them within the European framework, we will be ready to agree to a solution. If we do not reach agreement, we will continue with the veto… on the issue of the Euroforce,» Papandreou told reporters. He added that, «from the start we have said that it was important to bring the issue back to the EU… and the involvement of the EU’s Spanish presidency is useful and [it] has made constructive efforts.» The two ministers also stressed that they were in agreement on foreign policy. This followed comments by Papantoniou on Tuesday suggesting that Greece had gained nothing vis-a-vis relations with Turkey.