Letter from Thessaloniki

Whatever else EU summits do, most people judge them mainly on the over-narrow criterion of voting rights. The stage that was set in Brussels over the weekend, with all those regal chairs that awaited the final triumphant entry of the 25 actors, was abandoned after four of the key players – Germany, France, Spain and Poland – made it clear that they could not agree on voting powers under a projected constitution. After Thessaloniki’s (well, it was really flashy Porto Carras’s) EU summit last summer, talks on the new constitution are once again the obvious starting point. Following Costas Simitis and Silvio Berlusconi, now it is the next EU president, Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern – whose country takes over the EU presidency on 1 January – who, working discreetly on the detail and the props, will have to show the skills of a great stage manager.  After a series of coming elections, including the Greek ones, are out of the way, and with the right timing (not before next autumn), some new, like-minded stars can emerge to fanfare and bouquets. But, but… a member of the present Greek government has some equally elaborate plans for the future. «Renewal and Representation in a New Era with a New Breath» was the new motto introduced the other day here in Thessaloniki by Deputy Foreign Minister Yiannis Magriotis, who addressed some 800 participants of the 5th Council of Hellenism Abroad (SAE). (Please note: it was not The Society of Automotive Engineers, nor the well-known School of Audio Engineering in Australia, nor the Sigma Alpha Epsilon – North America’s largest social fraternity, with more than 260,000 initiated members since 1856 – one can never be attentive enough when creating one’s acronym.) In the world «out there» (east of the Mediterranean Sea) there were angry noises off stage. First was an angry threat. Appearing on Turkish television last week, Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul warned that Turkey might quit working for its European Union membership if the EU doesn’t give it a date next December to begin its accession talks. Comforting though that is for some Europeans, it entails a major risk: that Turkey might further turn in on itself. Not an enjoyable thought for Greece. More sounding off: Just days before yesterday’s general elections in the breakaway Turkish statelet of northern Cyprus, the Democrat Party’s leader Serdar Denktash, the son of Rauf Denktash, charged the European Union and the USA of pushing for the United Nation’s plan for the island to be signed «… so they could control the rich oil and gas reserves on the island.» Indeed, introspection carries dangers, because it means that a government – in fact any government – could shrink from tough decisions on several issues that matter a lot to them. Now, the only undeniable fact is that without a settlement on Cyprus, Turkey’s chances of being given a date when it can start negotiating its own accession to the EU are not conceivable.