The coming days will be crucial for Turkey’s international and regional role. The meeting between US President Joe Biden and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will redetermine the US-Turkey equilibrium in all those key areas where Greece’s neighbor has sought a more prominent role (relations with Russia, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, the Caucasus, Eastern Mediterranean). The European Council will decide whether it will promote a positive EU-Turkey agenda. Turkey’s relations with the US and Europe are now more dynamic and complex than ever.
In light of these conditions, the government would be making a huge mistake if it were to approach Turkey with outdated tools. It would be a mistake, in other words, to deem that Turkey is “isolated,” to seek dialogue on minor disputes in a bid to steer clear of the core of what is at stake: Greece-Turkey, EU-Turkey and US-Turkey ties and the way that they interplay.
It would also be a mistake to have a repeat of the recent Cavusoglu meeting – albeit on a higher level: to aim, in other words, at an easing of tensions ahead of the summer season. That would be to squander a key opportunity where Erdogan is pressured to adopt a constructive attitude and to support Turkey’s troubled economy. Every time Turkey gets an opportunity for a meeting with Greece without any pressure, it gets a free ride to prop up its image in the eyes of the West.
On the contrary, it is now a good opportunity to push Turkey into a substantial dialogue (on exploratory contacts, military-to-military CBMs, the security/guarantee aspects of the Cyprus problem, East Med energy disputes).
Greece must set the foundations for a meaningful dialogue with Turkey and Turkey must soon sign up to specific commitments overseen by the EU, or as soon as it reaches a new modus vivendi with the US and it receives some positive signals about its economy from its traditional allies within the bloc, it will either switch back to its usual aggressive mode or pursue deals with “willing third parties” (in Washington, Berlin or Brussels) at Greece’s expense.
As a result, the decision to conduct talks only about low politics is simply a disguise of a policy that places essential issues on the back burner. The policy of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis verifies our longstanding criticism that he neither has a concrete strategy about resolving issues nor intends to shoulder any political risk for the sake of national interests. This is after all reflected in his constant back and forth regarding the vote on the provisions of the Prespes accord. He continues to make foreign policy on the basis of partisan – or, more accurately, inner-party – criteria.
SYRIZA, on the other hand, wants an energetic foreign policy strategically aimed at settling disputes on the basis of international law. This is the meaning of SYRIZA chief Alexis Tsipras’ recent proposal that the European Council conclusion hinge the activation of the revised customs union between EU and Turkey to a Turkish obligation to refer to The Hague the dispute regarding the continental shelf/exclusive economic zone (EEZ) on the basis of a joint agreement. However, will Turkey accept a recourse to the international court for this dispute alone and give up all its other claims which are unacceptable to Greece? This is the point exactly: The chances of Ankara accepting this sort of demand in the future without pressure or the incentive of a new economic relationship with the EU and the fear of economic collapse are zero. On the contrary, there is now a window of opportunity that must be exploited.
Besides, we are not the only ones urging Mitsotakis against setting the bar low once again. Inside the conservative party, Dora Bakoyannis recently mentioned the need for an “aggressive diplomacy,” while Giorgos Koumoutsakos referred to a “more energetic diplomacy.” The lack of progress from an ostensible dialogue that does not aim at genuine problem-solving is common knowledge.
Giorgos Katrougalos is a professor of public law and SYRIZA’s shadow foreign minister.