Poor record

Nine years after former Socialist prime minister Costas Simitis inaugurated his step-by-step rapprochement policy with Turkey and six years after the European Council at Helsinki took the landmark decision of awarding Ankara EU-candidate status, the mood among Greek foreign-policy makers is far from triumphant. The single fruit to have been reaped from Greece’s repeated overtures to Ankara and the government’s support of Turkey’s EU ambitions is that tension in bilateral relations has eased. The gain, however, is mutual and cannot be considered a concession on Ankara’s part. Ankara’s political establishment never misses out on an opportunity – be it with words or actions – to remind Greece of its expansionist aspirations. Over the previous year, and despite the fact that Turkey depended on the Greek and Cypriot go-ahead to begin membership negotiations with the EU, Ankara did not bother to make a single goodwill gesture. In fact, Turkish provocation has increased. The truth is, Ankara never kept secret its intentions. Nor can it be held responsible for the fact that the Greek political elite has been nourishing expectations that are in the end rarely vindicated by facts. According to a VPRC survey, the results of which are published today in Kathimerini English Edition, the Greek public for the most part shares these sanguine expectations. Of those polled, 65 percent feel Turkish membership in the EU will have a spillover benefit on bilateral relations. Almost 46 percent said that Turkish accession is probably in the interest of Greece, while 38 percent disagree. At the same time, however, 58 percent say they are against Turkey joining the EU, while 29 percent are in favor. The findings reflect the ambiguity felt by the Greek public – a mix of hope and suspicion, perhaps because Ankara has so far shown no sign to justify those hopes. In an indication of the mood, right after the launch of accession negotiations, which took a lot of effort on the part of Greek diplomats, the Turkish government said publicly that it does not intend to yield an inch on outstanding disputes with Greece and Cyprus. Showing that Turkish officials mean what they say, the deputy chairman of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party, Saban Disli, speaking this week at an Istanbul conference attended by EU deputies, reiterated doubts about the ecumenical nature of Patriarch Vartholomaios’s post. Moreover, Turkish fighter jets violated Cyprus air space in a bid to upset the Cypriot National Guard’s annual Nikiforos exercise. The path to normalization will be long and hard.