No progress on tough issues

Yesterday’s meeting between Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan highlighted the impasse in bilateral relations. Ankara’s refusal to meet its European Union commitments on issues such as Cyprus and the Patriarchate as well as its continuing provocation over the Aegean has dissipated Athens’s hopes in the Turkish premier. Karamanlis attended the meeting with few expectations because Greece has always aimed at putting bilateral disputes on the EU-Turkey agenda and also because there is no leeway for major initiatives. He was limited to fostering cordial relations with Erdogan and keeping the lid on tensions in the Aegean. Athens is focusing on low-key policy issues such as economic cooperation and anti-flooding measures in the Evros area. For the thorny political issues, Greece prefers a snail’s pace to complete inertia. Greece hopes that EU accession talks will pressure Turkey to adapt to the EU’s acquis communautaire. Karamanlis said there were no winners or losers in yesterday’s meeting. And he was absolutely right because there was no bargaining, merely an informal exchange of views. Once Erdogan decided to attend the summit in Thessaloniki, it was inevitable that he would meet the host. Otherwise, it would appear as if Greek-Turkish relations were undergoing a crisis. In fact, there has been some progress on the quieter issues, but the two sides are stuck on the difficulties, which explains Karamanlis’s reluctance to visit Ankara. The so-called exploratory contacts continue, but informal negotiation has come to a halt. Athens must reconsider its policy. For starters, it must prepare for the possibility that Turkey’s EU prospects might end in no more than a special relationship with the bloc.