Treading water on Turkish relations

There are no high hopes for the outcome of today’s scheduled meeting in Thessaloniki between Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, reflecting the generally lowered expectations as to progress in Greek-Turkish relations. Under pressure due to forthcoming parliamentary elections as well as the ascent of the far right in his country, it is clear that Erdogan has revised his strategy. The «European vision» which Erdogan had proudly been heralding over the past two years now appears to be fading, and the Turkish premier’s rhetoric is presently dominated by the re-emergence of established stances of Turkey’s diplomatic and military leadership. Indeed, Ankara is categorically refusing to sign a European Union protocol extending its customs union to include Cyprus, making the opening of its ports and airports to Cypriot vessels and aircraft dependent upon «an end to the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots.» Moreover, not only is Turkey failing to make any gestures of good will on sensitive issues for Greece such as the reopening of the Halki Orthodox Seminary off Istanbul, but, on the contrary, it appears to be tolerating a rise in extreme right-wing elements such as the provocative behavior of the Gray Wolves group, which opposes Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios. Athens has no reason to hope for a significant shift in Erdogan’s stance in the immediate future and should simply operate on the basis of each new challenge. The best approach for Greek diplomats now is to pursue dialogue with their Turkish counterparts on less sensitive issues in order to keep channels open and avert the risk of a crisis in the Aegean or over Cyprus.