NEWS

Pride, ignorance, concern — and some frustration and disdain

The British believe Greece will probably align itself with the «federals» (ie the Germans) at the Inter-governmental Conference, a prospect they do not relish. Perhaps this is why they show such little understanding for Greece’s foreign policy concerns, claiming that the dispute between Greece and Turkey is an obstacle to British policy that wants Turkey in the EU. However, their harshest, but probably most accurate, criticism has to do with subsidies. The British do not see anything of interest in this sector in relation to Greece, apart from provisions for olive oil, but also mention corruption and fraud. The Germans, on the other hand, are up in arms about Greece’s public debt (although they are also furious about their own). They say they have no intention of playing a mediating role between Greece in its «national» disputes with other countries as they cannot be neutral, since both Germany and Greece are members of the European brotherhood. And while the Austrians and Swedes believe that their Greek communities enhance Greece’s image in those countries, the Germans are not aware of theirs. The Dutch are far more avant-garde and say the Greece-Cyprus-Turkey relationship would be a perfect framework for learning how to prepare European foreign policy mechanisms. They also believe that during Greece’s tenure of the EU presidency it will be an «honest broker,» to use Bismarck’s historic phrase. Yet they also fear that Greece is a channel for organized crime from the East into Europe. The Italians see that we have proved that we can help work (with them) toward a European foreign policy, particularly in our own region. They generally hold us in high estimation both as Europeans and as Greeks, although their chiefs of foreign policy are concerned that we might involve them in our problems with Turkey. The Spaniards, on the other hand, remember that the (Turkish oceanographic research ship) Sismik sailed out into the Aegean in 1976 – not even into Greek but «disputed» waters. They also say that if tension with the Turks is damaging for the EU, we should explain our policy to other member states. (They are probably angry that Greece had exercised its right to veto when Spain was negotiating to join.) They also claim to have made better use of European cohesion funds. The Belgians recall that Greece has received a lot of European money, nearly 4 percent of the GDP, and make no secret of the fact that the Belgians regard Greece as an ideal place for a holiday, as do many other member states. Belgium sees Greece’s Orthodoxy as an advantage in the former communist world. The Danes are the only ones worried that our unstable economy might be bad for the euro. Everyone else has seen what percentage of the EU’s economy Greece represents and have no problem, not even now that, for the first time, Eurostat has published official Greek statistics on the economy accompanied by a question mark. The Finns are extremely interested in Greece’s culture and «Euro-marginalization» (which they perhaps feel threatens us both) and in what the two countries have in common. Austrians see Greece as a poor relation in the EU and do not believe they know much, not only about Greece itself but about Greece’s place in the EU. Nor are they very clear on Greece’s position on several issues. The French proudly consider themselves to be our «godfathers» in Europe but they do have some complaints. For example, Greece’s business community does not inspire them with much confidence. A 1998 survey did not present a favorable picture of Greece’s image in France. However, the French believe that bilateral relations are very special, that we have a common vision beyond that of the EU economy and that as a nation we are fervent advocates of French education. They were pleased with the flirtation between (Greek Prime Minister Costas) Simitis and his former French counterpart Lionel Jospin, rather strangely, considering their recent elections. They also like the European style of (honorary ND leader Constantine) Mitsotakis, Simitis and Foreign Minister George Papandreou, in contrast to the late Andreas Papandreou, who they saw as representative of the «old mentality.» Like the British and the Italians, the French view us as «federals.» They are the only ones in Europe who believe we should get more EU funds because we are still poorer than the rest of them. The Portuguese do us the favor of recognizing that «Greece’s willingness to participate in the EU’s Balkan policy is Athens’s best chance of showing its ability to think in a European way.» The Swedes are proud of Greece’s performance in Europe; they are very interested in tourism and, strangely enough, in terrorism, but also in fundamental rights and in contacts between communities in both countries. The Irish find they have much in common with us, regarding the economy, geography, social cohesion and the Common Foreign Policy and Civil Defense pact.