Ankara revisited

Ankara is standing at one of the most crucial crossroads in its modern history. To be sure, Turkey is already in the EU waiting-room, has a robust growth rate, and has made huge strides toward modernizing its industrial sector and democratizing its political system so as to meet European Union standards for membership. Even so, serious problems remain. The Islamic-leaning government under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not providing the needed stability, millions of people live under the poverty line, anti-Western sentiment is growing, the nationalists are getting stronger, and the PKK, the Kurdish separatist rebels, have declared an end to the ceasefire. The Turkish government is bracing for the opening of EU membership negotiations on October 3, aware of growing resistance in France, Germany and other nations to allowing Ankara into the European club. In response, Washington and London are mulling joint efforts to improve Ankara’s prospects with the help of a circle of existing members. The Greek government believes that it is in the national interest to be part of any pro-Turkey alliance. The government has decided that Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis should visit the Turkish capital, probably next month. The decision was taken during a cordial meeting between the two leaders in the Evros region last week. Karamanlis will be the first Greek premier to make an official visit to Ankara since 1959, when the late Constantine Karamanlis, then-premier and uncle of the current PM, traveled to Turkey’s capital. Athens must do everything to prepare for Karamanlis’s visit. Erdogan should be pleased with its timing, coming on the eve of the EU talks. Even so, the Greek premier’s trip must also bring some tangible political results. Otherwise the government will be open to criticism from voters and political circles. The decision to back Ankara’s EU aspirations is part of the Greek government’s long-term strategy, which also dictates that bilateral disputes can and must be shelved. But what is the point of making an official visit to Ankara, the first in 46 years, if it gets reduced to a discussion of low-level issues? Only Greek policymakers can answer that question. Turkey has been eager for EU membership talks to begin, but has not backed down on the casus belli with respect to Greek territorial waters and has shown no intention of abandoning its intransigence on Greek-Turkish issues – notably the reopening of the Greek Orthodox Theological School in Halki. Rather, Ankara has violated the summer moratorium on military exercises in the Aegean, has repeatedly sent Turkish fighter jets into Greek air space, and used aircraft to shoot photos of Greek units on maneuvers in the eastern Aegean.

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