NEWS

Athens watches Berlin

As the German elections approach, the Greek government has been showing greater and greater interest in the results of Sunday’s voting, as officials believe that what happens in Germany will have great impact on issues involving Greece. According to close aides of PM Costas Simitis, the prime minister believes that the German elections are extremely close and that the winner will win by the slimmest majority. But it is obvious that Athens would prefer that the Social Democrat government of Gerhard Schroeder stay on in Berlin. The main reason, as Simitis hinted at a meeting of his PASOK party’s Executive Bureau late on Wednesday, is the Cyprus issue. Government officials are afraid that after the German elections, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, at the urging of Washington from the sidelines, may present a blueprint for solving the Cyprus issue that will not be acceptable to Nicosia. In such a case, the Greek government will be forced to press for Cyprus’s accession to the EU in the first wave of enlargement, without the island’s political problem having been solved. As government officials confide, Schroeder is more likely to stick to the decisions that the EU took at its Helsinki Summit in December 1999 than is his Christian Democrat rival, Edmund Stoiber. The second reason for Athens’s «covert» preference for Germany’s Social Democrats is the fact that Greece’s six-month stint as president of the EU begins in January. Simitis, for a number of reasons (including domestic, political ones) wants to use this period to push a strongly «social» agenda in the EU. This has become difficult enough because of the state of the European economy. It will be even more difficult if, besides France, there is a conservative government in Germany as well. Finally, PASOK would prefer to see Schroeder triumph over his challenger for another reason. After the socialists’ victory in Sweden, a win by the Social Democrats in Germany will weaken Greece’s conservatives’ argument that Europe is swinging toward the «center right» and that this wave will overwhelm Greece as well. Municipal and regional elections in Greece (on October 13 and 20) have always been seen as a test of strength. National elections are due in the spring of 2004. Opinion polls have shown New Democracy consistently ahead by between 6 and 10 percent.