Election fireworks

The proposal for reciprocal military spending cuts by Greece and Turkey has been a subject of bilateral negotiations for many years. Talks on its implementation have always met with Turkish refusals that were expressed in no uncertain terms. Ankara has invoked national security concerns on its eastern border, leaving no room for progress on the issue. Greek Foreign Minister and PASOK chairman-in-waiting George Papandreou reiterated the proposal for mutual spending cuts during a visit to Thrace, in northeastern Greece, adding that the money saved could be used to fund welfare policies instead. The promise, no doubt, sounds appealing, but it is largely misleading. Even if our neighbors displayed a constructive stance, an agreement would take many years to materialize, given that security spending is not independent of other concerns. Furthermore, signing such an agreement would not automatically free up any funds, given that the bulk of the armaments programs is already under way and, most importantly, is usually paid for by special medium- and long-term loans. In other words, Papandreou’s proposal amounts to campaign fireworks. The manner in which the pro-government media presented the issue is indicative of their pre-election objectives. It is not just that they pointed to the Greek proposal as an original idea that can be immediately implemented. They also presented the reserved response by his Turkish counterpart as an endorsement. Of course, such proposals are rarely rejected out of hand – even more so when they are driven by pre-election expediency. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said that this was a positive proposal but avoided making any commitment that Turkey will start negotiations for its practical implementation. Moreover, there is another parameter that has to be taken into account. In past years, policies on national issues used to prompt fierce partisan confrontation. However, in recent years we have witnessed a satisfactory consensus on the basic guidelines. Some differences on handling still remain, of course, but even these are expressed in restrained language and are not held ransom to political expedience. In this light, Papandreou’s initiative was a rather artless violation of the aforementioned practice – a violation that opposition leader Costas Karamanlis noted in public. The government should be wary of promoting Ankara into a new situation that could influence Greece’s election campaign. Let us hope that this will be the last such incident. Legitimate as the expression of political disagreements about policies may be, pre-electoral fireworks over sensitive foreign policy matters must be ruled out of the campaign.