Pragmatism, at last

With the end of the Olympic extravaganza, the spotlight is shifting back onto Greece’s foreign policy, a policy area which represented a major challenge to the government from its first days in office in March. Over the past eight years, the Simitis government labored under a perceived need to revive the basic components of his predecessor Andreas Papandreou’s foreign policy; this led to a rush to quickly and simultaneously settle all outstanding issues. Since then, conservative Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his Foreign Minister, Petros Molyviatis have restored normality in Greece’s foreign policy without compromising national interests. The main difference between then and now is the disengagement of Turkey’s European prospects from efforts to find a solution to the Cyprus issue and a settlement of Greek-Turkish disputes – issues to be taken up at the December EU summit, which will decide whether to give Ankara a date to commence membership talks. The Socialist opposition will no doubt be keen to criticize government actions in order to justify its past policies. There is little doubt, however, that the linking of Turkey’s EU aspirations with the Cyprus and Aegean Sea disputes would have brought pressure on Athens and Nicosia, and forced Greece to compromise or see its relations with the EU deteriorate. True, former prime minister Costas Simitis’s foreign policy suffered the burden of two decisive developments: the Imia crisis and the fiasco involving the Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan. To mitigate their consequences, Simitis went too far in promoting Greek-Turkish rapprochement and pressuring Nicosia to accept the UN reunification plan for Cyprus. First, Simitis adopted UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s blueprint on Cyprus and, together with PASOK’s new leader George Papandreou, declared support for it before the Cypriot leadership got to voice its opinion. Eventually, over 75 percent of the Greek Cypriot population rejected the plan in a referendum. Secondly, Simitis interpreted the Helsinki summit conclusions to mean that any border disputes not resolved by end-2004 would be referred to the international tribunal in The Hague. Turkey questioned Simitis’s interpretation, yet Greek-Turkish dialogue has been more pragmatic and smooth under Karamanlis. Athens wants close EU-Turkish relations so that after decades of crises, the issues will be decided on the basis of European principles of coexistence and cooperation without frustrating deadlines.

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