OPINION

National goals

The European Union’s decision at Copenhagen to approve the accession of Cyprus proved a spectacular finale to the year. Greece’s assumption of the EU presidency yesterday is a major opportunity to strengthen the country’s European image. A comparison with Greece’s neighbors shows just how much progress has been made since the restoration of democracy in 1974. No doubt much could have been done better, faster and at lower cost. Even so, the country has made great strides and can look forward to an even more promising future. As the new year begins, let us focus on foreign policy, where losses and gains are longer-lasting and where Athens has set a clear course. It wants a solution to the Cyprus issue based on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s proposal, but will not accept any deviation from Cyprus’s EU accession schedule. So the accession protocol for the 10 new member states (including Cyprus) should be signed in Athens in April, followed by a year in which the parliaments of the 15 present members must ratify the agreement so that as of May 2004 the EU will have 25 members. As for Greek-Turkish relations, Athens has also taken a clear stand, attempting to resolve the 30-year dispute over the Aegean and seeking solutions on the basis of international law and the instruments of European civil culture; that is, by referring any differences to the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The deadline set in Helsinki for the EU to seek solutions within a bilateral dialogue expires at the end of 2004. Ankara will then have crucial decisions to make, as the EU’s then-25 members will decide if and when to set a date to begin Turkey’s accession talks. Any persistence by Turkey with its expansionist policies will be at odds with its European ambitions. Greece hopes this will convince it to adapt, and to abandon views aimed at demonstrating political and military strength. These may have served a purpose in regional disputes, but are devoid of meaning within the new framework of an expanded EU. The fact that Greece’s international position is stronger than ever before does not mean that its course will be problem-free. This is a transition period, which means that Greece must deal with conflicting needs: namely active participation in the European unification process, and resolving nationalist disputes dating back two centuries.