Ending the inertia in foreign policy

Although the midair collision between Greek and Turkish fighter jets over the Aegean last week was an accident it nevertheless put to the test some well-established pretensions of Greek foreign policy. The reactions to former president Costis Stephanopoulos’s article in the Sunday edition of Kathimerini were indicative of the prevailing mood: Regardless of what one may think of Stephanopoulos’s radical proposals, the loud reaction by political parties, media and pundits shows that the former president touched upon a real problem whose time to be addressed was long overdue. Over the past 10 years, Greek policy toward Ankara has been determined by the so-called Imia syndrome and the 1999 Helsinki shift. The main pillars of the policy were the perpetuation of the status quo at all costs coupled with an expectation that Turkey’s European Union ambitions would help tame Greece’s eastern neighbor. The motives were honest but, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango. When the conservative New Democracy party gained power in Greece, PASOK’s so-called Helsinki policy – which also entailed referring Greek-Turkish problems to the Hague tribunal – had failed to progress by a single inch. Responsibility for the failure rested with Ankara. It has become clear that putting Greek foreign policy on autopilot does not guarantee that Greek-Turkish relations will safely land on EU territory. The dogma of non-action in view of a better timing sometime in the future has made the Greek government a passive observer of events while exposing the country to accidental or intended events which can only bring us back to the simplistic dilemma: crisis escalation or submissiveness. There is an urgent need for a new, more constructive policy as well as for initiatives which will aim at overcoming the dangerous inertia. Otherwise the two countries risk ending up like the proverbial train passengers who wake up at the sound of the crash.