Dialogue on the Aegean

Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s remarks last week on the alleged «secret negotiations» between Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou and his Turkish counterpart Ismail Cem on the Aegean Sea were extremely useful, for they may put an end to an exchange of views between friends on issues which concern the country’s sovereign rights. Papandreou rushed to state on Friday that «we do not negotiate our sovereign rights.» But when he exchanges – even if he actually disagrees with, as is probably the case – opinions with Cem in a friendly atmosphere on issues which have long been raised by Turkish policy over the Aegean, this is normally interpreted as the beginning of a «political dialogue.» It’s no paradox then that Ecevit tried – by exaggerating and probably by distorting Papandreou’s intentions – to create a rift between Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Papandreou, claiming that although Greece’s prime minister has repeatedly said that the only way out of the problem is the International Court of Justice at The Hague, Papandreou and Cem are, in his view, «determined to reach a formula (on the Aegean) which will satisfy the expectations of both countries.» Ecevit’s remarks were useful for one more reason. On Friday Papandreou, for the first time, essentially promoted the need for a dialogue with Ankara following the decisions of the Helsinki summit which encourage EU candidate states (this also includes Turkey) «to solve every outstanding border dispute.» It is clear that, for some reason, Simitis’s government desires or feels it has to begin a dialogue with Ankara on the Aegean. The difference lies in the fact that Turkey insists on «political» consultations, that is, talks from a stronger position, while Greece insists on dialogue on the basis of the existing international treaties. But any dialogue – whenever it takes place – has to be in line with institutions and traditional procedures, meaning that any talks on a political level have to be preceded by thorough negotiations between Foreign Ministry officials. This has happened in the past, but efforts proved unsuccessful. However, there have been some very significant developments since then. Greece has accepted the jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice at The Hague, unlike Turkey, which, however, will be forced do so at some point on its path toward EU accession. But if Ankara takes any issue to The Hague, then Athens will have to accept the verdict of the tribunal, whatever that may be. In essence, any decision by an international tribunal on any issue, except for the fortification of the islands, could be used as a pretext by the Greek government to accept settlements on the Aegean which would otherwise be very difficult, if not impossible to implement, for political reasons. Of course Turkey, which has a clear military advantage, seeks to resolve the issues which it has raised over the Aegean on the basis of political dialogue, and Ecevit underscored just that. Greece could reject this – and may well do so – right to the end, but at some point, and if, problems are taken to The Hague, decisions on so-called sovereign rights may well be taken by some Polish or Czech judge. An Athens lawyer has applied to the Council of State for the abolition of what he calls «unconstitutional» legislation introduced at the start of 2002 to support the euro. According to the lawyer’s claim the euro could only have replaced the drachma if voted in by three fifths of Parliament and approved by referendum.

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