Athens, 18 November 2005
At a time when the Greek prime minister's decision to postpone a planned visit to Turkey -- for the second time this year -- is casting a shadow over an unprecedented rapprochement in recent years in decades-long hostile relations between the two neighbors, Greek opposition leader George Papandreou is putting special emphasis on the importance of having mutual trust in relations -- both bilateral relations between Turkey and Greece and relations between European Union candidate Turkey and the bloc.
Papandreou, as a former foreign minister who, together with his then-counterpart, former Turkish Foreign Minister İsmail Cem, was one of the architects of the Turkish-Greek rapprochement that started in the late 1990s, is a very familiar face in Turkish public opinion.
Even after the centrist-right Nea Demokratia party of current Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis displaced the longtime ruling Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) of then-Prime Minister Costas Simitis in the spring of 2004, Papandreou has never lost his interest in improving relations with Turkey on a political level.
Papandreou, who succeeded Simitis in 2004 as the leader of PASOK, most recently paid a visit to Turkey last month, co-chairing a high-level advisory group of the Party of European Socialists (PES), together with Finnish Parliament Speaker and former Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen. The delegation had talks with both Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül.
Papandreou once more expressed his confidence and support in Turkey's EU process during an interview with the Turkish Daily News, saying that the bloc's enlargement strategy has been making a great contribution to Turkey's democratization, as well as advancing stability, security and peace in our region.
“But it is the responsibility of the Turkish leadership and the political powers in Turkey to move forward without delay and meet the membership criteria set by the EU. Today, we see a lack of trust regarding Turkey's true intentions and potential among the European public. This lack of trust, which in some cases goes so far as denying that Turkey should have a place in Europe, must be addressed by advancing Turkey's reform efforts,” Papandreou, however, said.
“We all need to be honest in order to build a sincere relationship of mutual trust between Europe and Turkey. Today, it is clear that the reform process is lagging behind. This phenomenon is very troubling to both public opinion and political leaders in Europe. I believe much groundwork is still necessary to achieve mutual trust and confidence between Turkey and the EU,” he added.
‘Conditions on Cyprus have changed':
Since July, when Karamanlis accepted an invitation to visit Turkey from his Turkish counterpart, Erdoğan, the issue of Karamanlis' trip has become a puzzle. Nevertheless, the visit carries symbolic importance since, if it takes place, Karamanlis will be the first Greek premier to visit Turkey since 1959.
The visit, originally planned for August or September, was first postponed until autumn, when Turkey insisted that its signing of an EU customs union protocol did not mean recognition of Greek Cyprus.
Calling into question Greece's policy of supporting Turkey's EU membership bid, Karamanlis said in a speech last week in Parliament that EU values are not compatible with “war threats” and maintaining troops on Cyprus.
When reminded during the meeting that his PASOK had been in favor of a U.N. reunification plan that collapsed last year due to the rejection of Greek Cypriots, Papandreou began by saying that “the conditions on Cyprus have changed.
“We must address these new circumstances with a sense of realism, determination and political courage. Cyprus' membership in the EU and the beginning of accession negotiations with Turkey can provide a new momentum for a solution to the Cyprus problem. This is in the interest of both our countries but also in the interest of peace and stability in the region. Above all, reunifying the island is in the interests of both communities on Cyprus, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Our goal must remain the same: a viable and workable solution, based on U.N. resolutions and the EU's principles and laws. We must deal with the Cyprus issue within this new European context, which will safeguard the interests of the Turkish Cypriots and address the legitimate concerns of the Greek Cypriots,” he said.
‘Turkey should recognize “ecumenical” status as part of embracing European values':
According to Greek media reports, a variety of reasons lie at the heart of the Greek government's decision now to postpone the visit for a second time.
The visit, said Kathimerini daily, was postponed because of recent “counterproductive remarks” from Turkish officials and protests by Turkish nationalist groups in front of the Istanbul-based Greek Orthodox Patriarchate as well as Turkey's “inflexible” stance on Cyprus.
Referring to his recent visit to Turkey along with the PES delegation, Papandreou said that he then found the opportunity to meet with Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartolomeos, describing him as “a very important international figure.”
“The Ecumenical Patriarch is one of the biggest supporters of Turkey's European prospects. Recognizing the Ecumenical Patriarchate and reopening the theological school of Halki are essential steps as Turkey starts to implement EU legislation. A Muslim country that embraces the Mecca of Orthodoxy would prove that Turkey is ready to embrace European values and laws,” he said.
‘Political responsibility matters':
Without needing to hide his pride at being one of the architects of the Turkish-Greek rapprochement, Papandreou still believes that the Simitis government's attitude of “low policy issues first” was the right thing to do.
“After almost 40 years, we have opened up important new methods of cooperation based on our mutual interests. So I firmly believe that our decision to turn a new page in Greek-Turkish relations, starting with so-called ‘soft issues' -- which are essentially very effective in improving relations -- was the right approach and was vindicated by the results. This political approach helped create a new climate of mutual trust. At the same time it created the conditions to tackle our bilateral relations within the European framework.
“PASOK's foreign policy opened up new paths towards peace and stability in the region. Our rapprochement policy created the foundations for the peaceful coexistence of our peoples. I truly believe that both nations can work together to start a new era in bilateral relations to the mutual benefit of our peoples. But it is important to have a vision and to be politically responsible,” Papandreou concluded hopefully.