Mixed blessing

The political establishment in Athens and Nicosia seems to have trouble taking a stand on France’s newfound, hard-line policy on Turkey, setting recognition of Cyprus as a precondition for Ankara’s EU membership talks. To be sure, the French turnabout was prompted by self-interest, for the French elite does not want to see Ankara become an EU member. For its part, Athens believes that its own national interest dictates keeping Ankara tied to the bloc. Greek governments have embraced a pro-Turkish policy almost by default. In fact, most politicians would agree that a political price is worth paying if it finally gets Turkey into the EU. For that reason, Athens has kept its cool over repeated violations of Greek airspace this summer by Turkish fighter jets, it has tolerated Turkey’s casus belli territorial policy in the Aegean, and it has kept the door open for Turkey despite Ankara’s refusal to recognize Cyprus. The Socialist former government of Costas Simitis went as far as to accept the so-called Annan plan – a highly dysfunctional blueprint that was in blatant violation of international law. Although Greek interests do not necessarily coincide with the priorities of France or those of other EU nations, Athens and Nicosia cannot afford to ignore French reluctance to let Turkey in. The only way Greece could take a back seat would be for Ankara to revoke its unilateral statement on the non-recognition of Cyprus (which is attached to the customs protocol) by next week or, the latest, by the EU Council of Foreign Ministers in early September. But this is one possibility only, which is why talks between Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos today are of crucial importance.

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