Our rush to start exploratory contacts is striking. Political romanticism, intense external pressures or electoral purposes are the only explanations as to why Greece, after all it has endured and continues to endure daily, instead of reversing pressures and taking full advantage of the available strategic window, prefers to concede the advantage to a cornered Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
We have analyzed in other articles the constant undermining of Greek rights, the hasty reactions instead of new strategies and the impressive failure to do the easiest thing: secure substantial support from our strongest ally, the European Union. We should have sought a secure framework for a dialogue with Turkey, based on European terms, rules and guarantees. At least reaffirm previous and substantive decisions that set key terms, such as “according to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea” (UNCLOS), and not the ridiculous condition of indefinite respect for “international law.” Our showing weakness in a most favorable confrontation field gives non-daydreamers the right to worry about what will happen in the exploratory contacts.
Concerns grow as the (already minimalist) precondition for “consistency and continuity” is flouted daily, as we pretend not to be aware of the Turkish agenda and are drawn into a dialogue when: a) Erdogan is facing pressures from the inside and the outside, b) we expect a more favorable American involvement, c) we think that by March we can forge a better (for us, not for Turkey and its friends), new relationship between the EU and Turkey, by threatening to veto countries that have turned their backs on us, but have prominent issues which are minor to us (e.g. Latin America on Portugal and Spain), and d) we don’t even have a comprehensive plan for the exploratory contacts.
A dialogue between Sweden and Denmark would certainly not need conditions. However, how can Greeks happily enter into a dialogue with a gun to their head, and with “international law” as the only condition? Instead of gaining time for a strategical reorganization, we are rushing contentedly into a predetermined dead-end with two main possible outcomes: Either we leave when hearing the “Blue Homeland” list or we just continue pretending to debate only the continental shelf and exclusive economic zones, while practically slipping toward the unthinkable. In the first scenario, the West will criticize us and Turkey will escalate challenges to drag us back into a dialogue with even worse conditions. In the second, we will undermine our national interests and defer the problem to the future with even worse terms – a well-known recipe, which of course ensures a “smooth” road to elections…
Yet, there is a better strategy:
1. The wise “third way” to dialogue is based on European standards: Ask for (and require partners to co-sign) international basic terms and conditions: a) acceptance of UNCLOS and the applicable international treaties (not generalities like international law), and b) practical and long-term commitment to a peaceful settlement (not pauses of “normality” amid strong-arm tactics on the ground).
2. Show flexibility in order to take good advantage of the new Turkish hypocrisy about EU membership: Lift the block on Chapter 13 (fisheries) and introduce it in order for candidate Turkey to prove it actually accepts the mandatory adhesion to UNCLOS as part of the Community. Thus, succeed in turning Greek-Turkish issues into Euro-Turkish ones (see “Negotiating Framework EU-Turkey,” 2005) and obtain a European “guarantee” for a peaceful settlement.
The media outcry that our decisive stance forced Erdogan to fold cannot win a controversy. The unrealistic assumptions that we are holding talks with Denmark could lead to catalytic national damage.
Yannis Valinakis is a professor, president of the Jean Monnet European Center of Excellence (EKPA) at the University of Athens and former deputy minister of foreign affairs.