OPINION

A chance to join a crucial EU debate

The fact that meetings between European Union leaders have become something of a daily occurence does not diminish the significance of Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s talks in Paris yesterday with President Nicolas Sarkozy. Particularly when bearing in mind that many Europeans are looking to the French leader to help extricate the Union from its present inertia and internal crisis. The relationship between the Greek government and that of former French President Jacques Chirac (as well as former Premier Dominique de Villepin) went through a difficult period when Paris – against the background of its clash with former British Prime Minister Tony Blair – exploited the Cyprus problem to create obstacles to Ankara’s bid to join the EU. One must not forget that Chirac had originally given his wholehearted backing to Turkey’s bid to join the EU. Today the outlook is different. Sarkozy opposed Turkey’s full membership of the EU from the outset, proposing instead a «privileged partnership» with Ankara, as Angela Merkel had done before being appointed German chancellor. The Greek government has already made it clear that it will not fight to secure Turkey full membership within the EU. But this is not enough. Athens should adopt a more active role in the debate regarding the concept of a «privileged partnership» between the EU and Ankara. Of course there are EU members who still strongly insist on Turkey’s full accession to the bloc. But the dynamics that existed on the European political stage in 2004 have shifted. Then, the predominant political personality was Blair, whose successor Gordon Brown does not have the necessary «weight» to intervene decisively in European developments. Following a period of inertia that allowed Blair to shine on the European stage, the EU’s center of gravity has returned to the Germany of Merkel and the France of Sarkozy. The question now is whether these two leaders will be able to coordinate their actions to lead the Union out of its current crisis. The fact that this has been achieved in the past provides no guarantee that it can be repeated today. It is not clear if the winds of radicalism have started to blow in France. It is not clear if Sarkozy’s nervous energy can be successfully combined with Merkel’s stable and methodical nature. But there is no doubt that Sarkozy and Merkel are the strongest leaders in the EU at a time of waning Western confidence in the administration of US President George Bush, as Britain attempts to make its presence felt on the international stage opposite President Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Nevertheless, it is reasonably clear that Karamanlis’s talks with Sarkozy in Paris yesterday, and with Merkel in Athens on July 20, could present an opportunity for our country to become more actively involved in a crucial European debate.