Fulfulling pledges

Although the New Democracy Party has never stopped bragging about its historic decision in the 1970s to seek European Union membership – at a time when PASOK’s Socialists were still hostile to European institutions – the EU has increasingly become a source of embarrassment for Greece’s conservative government. Costas Karamanlis, leader of the ruling ND party, should have concentrated on fulfilling two of his pre-electoral pledges personally: To bar media barons from access to state contracts and, second, to re-examine Greece’s relations with Turkey. Western leaders had already welcomed the foreign policy about-turn made by then-prime minister Costas Simitis and his foreign affairs minister (who succeeded him as PASOK chairman), George Papandreou. When the Karamanlis government tried to introduce legislation preventing media groups from bidding for public projects, it drew a fierce reaction from Brussels. The government mumbled something about stubborn EU bureaucrats, but was finally forced to concede the Commission’s say over national legislation. As for relations with Turkey, Karamanlis thought Athens could finally trust a Turkish leader, seeing in Recep Tayyip Erdogan a reformist, pro-European if Islamic-leaning politician. Athens fears that if Erdogan were forced to leave the Turkish political stage, things could become very difficult for Greek politicians. Papandreou had a similar view of Turkey’s former foreign minister, Ismail Cem. Even after decades of uneasy relationship with Ankara, Greek politicians have yet to grasp that Turkey is, above all, a system that is not always responsive to the private aspirations of individual politicians. Turkey’s European course is a «deep state diktat» that has been pursued by many a politician before Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Meanwhile, growing European skepticism over Turkey’s bid to join the European Union peaked with the French government criticizing Turkey’s statement declaring that approval of the customs deal with the 10 new members of the bloc, including the Mediterranean island, does not mean recognition of the Republic of Cyprus. Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos was immediately summoned to Greece so that the two countries could hammer out a common stance over Turkey. Disagreement came as little surprise; it was to be expected since Nicosia sees no reason not to go along with the French about-face. The Greek government feels closer to Washington and London on the dispute. Ties with France and Germany have further cooled after Athens’s decision to purchase American-made F-16 military aircraft instead of the Eurofighter. Note that before the general election, Karamanlis vowed to bring Greece into the core of European defense. Being on good terms with the United States is both reasonable and necessary. But, decisions on how European Union money is spent are taken in Brussels, and it is basically France and Germany that have their hands on the European till.

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