Athens: A serious debate on ties with Turkey

Athens: A serious debate on ties with Turkey

Talking to his parliamentary group last Wednesday President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan came at some point to the recent agreement of Turkey with Libya. He praised it by saying that following this agreement “our country has gradually started to change the balances.” He accused the EU of “finding duties for itself in the Mediterranean when it does not have any authority to do so” and then claimed that the status that Turkey has declared in the Mediterranean “is becoming gradually accepted by the countries involved in the issue, particularly Greece.”

The Greek government reacted very strongly. “As we have stated repeatedly, illegality does not produce law. Greece not only cannot accept, but it also condemns — as did the international community — the illegal Turkish methods in the area which continue undermining regional peace and security, creating pretexts for breaching the arms embargo in Libya and attempting to exploit the sovereign rights of countries in the area.” The Turkish-Libya memorandum of understanding (MOU) has fueled a continuous, tense exchange between Greece and Turkey, which is transferred to TV panel discussions on a daily basis in Greece which could be summed up under the general title: “What should we do with Turkey?” and as a secondary question “Should we sit down and discuss our problems with Turkey or should Greece and Turkey seek the judgment of the International Court of Justice?”

So, the discussion that took place last week at the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP) in Athens was useful in testing what do politicians or diplomats who actually came close to Turkey, during the last two decades, think about the state of the Greek-Turkish relations. And more than that, what should be done to improve them.

The Panel discussion at ELIAMEP asked the participants to put forward their thoughts on one question: “Does going to the Hague serve our interest?” The participants were three former foreign ministers of Greece, Dora Bakoyiannis, George Papandreou and George Katroungalos, and one former deputy foreign minister during the crisis of Kardak/Imia, Christos Rozakis.

Bakoyiannis argued that it is in the interest of Greece to resort to The Hague although this position is heavily criticized by parts of the Greek media. “Honest talking with the Turks can only be beneficial,” she said.

“We must not allow third parties to force us to sit at the negotiating table. Helsinki no longer exists. It is a game of impression to speak about Turkey’s European perspective when we all know that Turkey will never become a member of the EU. It is like the old fairytale with the king. We should say that the king is naked,” Bakoyannis said.

The former foreign minister of Greece thinks that as Turkey has never accepted the authority of The Hague Court, it loses nothing. But she thinks that Greece’s argument is based on international law so it should resort to The Hague, although not yet. “We are not ready to go, yet,” she said and predicted that the relations between Greece and Turkey will have to go through many ups and downs. But, she said, “The message of dialogue should always be on the table.”

Papandreou, who retained his popularity in Turkey since he launched a dialogue with Turkey after the terrible earthquakes in Turkey and Greece in 1999, favors the solution of The Hague for solving mutual problems. “It is in our interest to be on the side which insists on the power of the law,” he said. “I would put it more simply as “do we want the power of law or the law of the jungle? Concerning Greece, our position has been clear for many years. It is in our interest to be on the side that insists on the power of the law.” According to the socialist Papandreou, this question is not rhetorical and it becomes quite pressing these days “when having to evaluate the way that many powers, like the U.S., are operating in the international stage, when “there is a tendency to discard international treaties such as the Paris agreement on climate change, U.S.-Russia agreements on nuclear weapons, or the agreements with Iran.”

The former foreign minister during the leftist Syriza government, Katroungalos noted that international diplomatic pressure has to be applied on Turkey so that it realizes that it cannot score victories by unilateral actions, but the Greek side should also know that Turkey should be included in the energy equation in the eastern Mediterranean under the terms of international law.

And Rozakis argued that before resorting to The Hague both sides should start exploratory talks. At the moment, the state of affairs benefits Turkey because it constantly adds new issues of dispute. However, he stressed, “You always talk even in the midst of a crisis. There is a need for dialogue to maintain peace.”

This was just the start of a series of talks on the Greek-Turkish affairs and current issues by a think-tank such as ELIAMEP. No doubt, away from the TV screens, many Greeks are seriously thinking what the Kyriakos Mitsotakis government should do to create a peaceful climate between these two neighbors caught now in a new spiral of problems of sovereignty over the purported energy sources in the sea.