Time for clarity

The decision by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to call for a special parliamentary debate on foreign policy was a remarkable one in the sense that governments usually prefer to tackle thorny issues – in this case Greek-Turkish relations – on their own and then inform the Parliament on their decisions. The debate will be held before November 8 – that is before the release of the European Commission’s progress report on Turkey and ahead of the December summit when EU leaders will decide on the future of Ankara’s membership bid. The central dilemma for European leaders, although few dare discuss this in the open, is whether Brussels will continue talks on full membership or instead seek a special relationship with the predominantly Muslim nation. Karamanlis is expected to repeat his backing for Turkey’s full membership under the condition that the candidate has fulfilled all prior obligations – a process that is hoped will Europeanize the country’s establishment. Both mainstream parties are against a special relationship because such status, they say, will give Turkey all the advantages of EU partnership without reversing Ankara’s assertiveness in the Aegean Sea and Cyprus. But the dilemma exists only in theory. What really matters is whether Ankara will finally apply the extended customs union protocol to EU member Cyprus. During her visit to Ankara, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to warn Turkey that in order to keep its membership bid on track it will have to meet its obligations toward Cyprus. There is no doubt Karamanlis will send the same message to Parliament, even though reformist pundits are urging him to ask for Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos to come to his senses and follow a supposedly more pragmatic approach.