A crucial six months ahead

Since the European Union summit in Seville, Greece’s foreign policy has entered a very difficult period, as the next six months will see the crucial issues of Cyprus’s accession to the EU being decided, the possible further enlargement of the EU, and Turkey’s likely reactions if developments move in a direction Ankara does not want. Difficulties that have emerged in the negotiations on changing the image of the Common Agricultural Policy could lead to a postponement of the enlargement, though this is something that many rule out due to the negative effects this would have on the EU’s stature and the stability of the euro. It is doubtful whether these concerns are well-founded, since an organization such as the EU is always able to review its decisions, at least partly. However, postponing enlargement for narrow, national expediencies would have a negative effect, particularly for Greek Cypriots, who have invested everything in their country’s accession. Even in the event that these current difficulties are not overcome and the EU enlargement goes ahead as scheduled, as many believe it will, there are two issues that Greece’s foreign policy-makers will have to deal with: The first is possible strong opposition from certain EU member states to a still divided Cyprus joining the Union, judging from the results of the Helsinki summit that called for a review of the situation if the island’s political problem was not resolved. Then there is Turkey’s objection to the Cypriot Republic’s accession to the EU if the problem is not solved in a way that Turkey deems satisfactory. Irrespective of the extent and form that a reaction from Turkey might take in such an event, Greece’s difficulty would lie in the fact that Turkey had taken the initiative and therefore Greece – the government and the nation’s political forces – would have to act firmly and immediately. Turkey’s main goal over the next six months is to fix a definite date for its accession talks with the EU to begin, irrespective of the amount of time they might take to be completed. Most EU member states believe that this request cannot be met because of Turkey’s lack of democratic institutions, still a problem, and its failure to comply with the criteria set out in Copenhagen regarding its observance of human rights issues. Even if for some reason our EU partners meet Turkey’s request, it is extremely doubtful whether setting a date will be enough for Ankara to agree to allow Cyprus to join without first resolving the Cyprus issue to the Turks’ satisfaction. Undoubtedly the next six months will be an extremely critical period for Greece’s foreign policy and no doubt Costas Simitis’s government will find it hard to manage these crucial issues while also having to deal with the internal disputes that have reduced it to a state of disarray.