The significance of Sarkozy for Greece

The assumption of the French presidency by Nicolas Sarkozy boosts Greece’s diplomatic arsenal but it also sets before us a strategic dilemma. When, during his visit to Thessaloniki last July, Sarkozy was honored by the Jewish community in the northern city – from which he hails – he was visibly moved and declared, «My roots are here.» How many countries have the privilege of boasting such a sentimental connection to the leader of one of the most important political powers in Europe and the world? Later on during that trip followed Sarkozy’s discussion with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on the issue of Cyprus and Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. As France’s interior minister at the time, Sarkozy declared that «the borders of Greece are the borders of the EU.» That comment was an expression of his well-known objection to the incorporation of Turkey within the European family rather than any support for the protection of Greece’s national integrity. But this does not change the objective fact that the French president has stated outright his conviction that the Greek islands mark the furthest borders of Europe. If another Imia-type crisis should erupt and Ankara should question the national sovereignty of some Greek island, this would effectively amount to a threat to the «borders of Europe.» Now, here’s the dilemma. Sarkozy has proposed the creation of a «Mediterranean Europe.» This constitutes a radical intervention in the complicated process of enlargement which has, to date, not attracted the attention it deserves. The Turkish government has rejected it out of hand. That was a hasty gesture, to be expected perhaps during the tense pre-electoral period Turkey is experiencing. But circumstances will soon oblige Ankara to revise its outright rejection and carefully consider Sarkozy’s proposal, which has also been embraced by Berlin. Much has been written about Sarkozy and US President George W. Bush’s convergence on the global chessboard. But on the one issue of chief concern to Athens, namely EU-Turkish ties, the new resident of the Elysee Palace does not see eye to eye with the US president. Quite the opposite. In contrast with his predecessor Jacques Chirac, France’s new president does not believe that Turkey belongs within a united Europe. Karamanlis believes that Ankara’s Europe-bound course is of advantage to Greece and Cyprus. So Greece may find itself in the paradoxical position of defending Turkey’s EU accession, and clashing with Paris and Berlin. But how prepared is the Greek premier to clash with the hub of Europe’s economy and with the majority of Greek citizens, who are still skeptical about Turkey within the EU? Nonetheless, after forthcoming elections in Turkey, if the new government continues to support Ankara’s accession, Karamanlis will have to take steps to boost public backing on this course.