Davutoğlu’s Athens expedition: Will wishes come true?

Davutoğlu’s Athens expedition: Will wishes come true?

The visit by Turkish Prime Minister Davutoğlu to Athens last weekend was very important in terms of number of ministers accompanying him, along with the number of members of Turkey’s business elite.  The delegation had gone there for “business,” as Davutoğlu stated in his speech at the end of the Turkish-Greek High Level Strategic Council.

“At this moment there are nine Turkish ministers in Greece. You could not find so many ministers in Ankara right now, we could even hold a Cabinet meeting,” he joked. “When we set up this working group four years ago, together with Greece, we did not see it as a temporary thing … We had a vision to convert our traditional relations into a permanent relationship of friendship.”

“In the final analysis, we are the gateway to Asia for Greece and Greece is our gateway to Europe,” he said.

Indeed, in the final communiqué both sides announced several areas of cooperation: Energy, electricity grid interconnection, tourism, transportation, trade, customs, illegal immigration, smuggling, organized crime and counterterrorism.

Despite the relatively “problem free” recent years, and the unprecedented economic crisis in Greece, the two countries have not realized their full economic and trade potential. The bilateral trade volume remains low, only rising from just under $5 billion a year to $5.6 billion in 2013, an increase of just 14 percent. This despite the fact that in the first Turkish-Greek High-Level Council, in 2010, 47 cooperation agreements were signed. Davutoğlu was very proud of this, saying at the time that “in the whole history of Turkish-Greek relations there have only been 35 agreements up to now.”

But obviously, the recent impressive number of agreements has not injected enough energy into the Greek-Turkish business world, as bilateral trade increased only 2 percent during the first 10 months of this year.

Are the businessmen on both sides unnecessarily cautious?

In spite of the strong assurances by the political leaders of “long term, medium term or short term” political stability and security for investments in both countries, businesspeople have been skeptical.
In addition to chronic bilateral disputes over the Aegean, air space and territorial waters, this year another major issue was added to the political agenda and cast a shadow over the meeting in Athens.

That issue is the dispute over exploration rights for underwater natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean, the right of the Republic of Cyprus over its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to conduct its own exploration work, the position of the Turkish Cypriots, the right of Greece to declare its own EEZ, and its agreement with Cyprus, Egypt and Israel.

Ankara has already warned the latter countries not to take steps that will escalate tension in the Eastern Mediterranean. In an interview with the Greek daily Kathimerini, on Dec. 7, Davutoğlu also declared that “we have the longest coastline in the Eastern Mediterranean. No one can squeeze Turkey into the Antalya bay. OK?”

On the eve of the meeting in Athens, there was a widespread understanding that Ankara would withdraw its exploration ship Barbaros from Cyprus’s EEZ, in order for the Cyprus talks to restart. But no such thing happened in the end. There are rumors that the last minute hitch may have been down to the stance of the Greek Cypriot side.

“Certainly, there are issues that we look at from a different angle ... We do not want tensions either in the Mediterranean or in the Aegean. But we are going to solve all these problems by talking and looking each other in the eye,” said Davutoğlu in his closing speech in Athens.

One may say that the fact that the third Turkish-Greek High Level Strategic Council actually took place was a good enough step. This may be so, but it is not enough for the business worlds of both countries to wholeheartedly bet on the prosperity of both peoples, unless there is a genuine political will on both sides to go the extra mile. So far, we do not see that.