Originally published in the Greek weekly newspaper “Paraskinio”, issue 607, p. 46, on Dec. 2, 2017
In a visit that can be described as historic, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will arrive in Athens in the coming days in a tense climate between the EU and Ankara, and an anger on behalf of Ankara towards NATO. The crisis of confidence of some European countries, mainly Germany, towards the Turkish government under Erdoğan remains. US-Turkey relations are undergoing a period of diplomatic alienation in recent weeks as a result of the arrest of two United States embassy employees in Turkey. The influx of refugees to Greek coasts, though in lower numbers, has returned. In the midst of all these developments, the visit of the Turkish President to Athens comes in an effort to open a new page not only with Athens but with the European Union in general. Let’s try to analyze the details of this visit and the expected results.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Çavuşoğlu announced on Sunday that the Turkish president will go ahead with a series of projects between the two countries, namely a railway line linking Istanbul with Thessaloniki and a commercial ferry line linking Smyrna with Thessaloniki. There will also be a long discussion between officials from both countries on the development of the tourism, transport and economy sectors.
The Cyprus issue will be at the top of these issues, as it has been a negative development in recent September last negotiations. The file on security and terrorism will be another hot issue, and Ankara will put a lot of pressure on the extradition of the eight Turkish soldiers who have applied for asylum in Greece. An attempt will also be made to find a suitable formula for the presence of representatives of the Kurdish parties on Greek soil, whom Ankara regards as terrorists. The refugee file will be among the issues to be discussed between the sides.
Ankara managed to overcome several successive crises, which began with the crisis with Russia in late 2015. The failed coup attempt, which was considered by the Turkish administration as backed by the West and the crisis of secession of the Kurdistan region of Iraq, which was considered by Turkish politicians as a threat to Turkish national security. The success of Ankara’s strategy in these crises gave a sense of euphoria and self-confidence. Erdoğan’s visit to Athens at this sensitive moment is Ankara’s attempt to impose on the European Union through Greece. Turkey is fully aware of the need of the Greek government for financial support and for resolving the refugee crisis. Therefore, this visit will be a Turkish message to the EU that Europe must face Ankara as an equal interlocutor.
In a discussion with a Western diplomat, he pointed out that Erdoğan would try to break the ice with Athens, offering some concessions on the Cyprus problem and the disputed territorial waters between the two countries. Many financial projects will also be launched to support the tired Greek economy. He will, however, ask for assurance that Athens will increase its pressure on the European Union to fully implement the agreement on the interruption of the flow of refugees, signed in March 2016, so that Ankara can help Athens resolve this crisis.
It is certain that the timing of the visit is not without expectation of profit from the Turkish administration. But this visit would not have been possible if Erdoğan had not received any positive messages from Alexis Tsipras personally, especially at their meeting in China, but also on the part of the security services. There seems to have been an agreement between officials of the two countries in recent months about those involved in the coup sought by Ankara. This is confirmed by the fact that Athens has returned to Turkey all those who tried to cross the border with Greece in the last two months. However, Erdoğan’s visit will not be welcomed by several EU countries, especially Germany.
The Greek government must make an effort not to become a tool for Turkey. Despite the economic fatigue of the country, this does not mean that it has to make any concessions. The Greek Prime Minister must show that Greece is open to expanding economic co-operation with Turkey without this being at the expense of the Cyprus issue or the relations of Athens with the EU. The success of this visit will depend on the ability of Greek officials to face the issues realistically and calmly, away from feelings and bombast.