19 June, 2004
Friday's decision by the European Council that called on Turkey to extend customs union with the 10 new member-states of the European Union, among them the Cyprus Republic, was a major success of Greek foreign policy, Greek Deputy Foreign Minister Evripidis Stylianidis said during an interview with the ANA. He said this was tantamount to recognition of the Cyprus Republic by Turkey as a single state.
Asked to respond to opposition criticism that the government had abandoned key negotiating advantages in its handling of Greek-Turkish issues and the Cyprus problem, Stylianidis countered by saying that the government had adopted the same overall policies as its predecessor but was simply doing them better, making it difficult for the opposition to mount an effective argument.
"Our policy culminates with pressure from the European Union on Turkey to recognize Cyprus as a single state and with the prospects that the Halki School of Theology will reopen...Today's decision by the European Union once again proves that the European umbrella is the most effective national protection that a small country such as Greece can have. It proves that the Greek government is effective, because in just three months it succeeded in navigating through so many dangers and bringing the country out stronger and unharmed," he said.
Despite having its hands "tied" by the New York agreement, he added, the present government had succeeded in softening the impact of the Greek-Cypriot side's 'no' in the Cyprus referendum for reunification, had avoided the de facto or de jure recognition of the occupied territories on Cyprus and had managed to keep the issue open so that talks could continue on reunification and on financial support for the Turkish-Cypriots to bring them out of their present isolation.
Stylianidis also vehemently denied recent claims by Turkish officials regarding the alleged violation of international treaties in Thrace regarding Greek Moslems in the region, saying that Thrace was a model example of an open democratic society.
He attributed the statements to "conservative" forces within Turkey that were still in competition with the new regime and stressed that Athens was satisfied with the stance so far adopted by Turkey's political leadership and supported every moderate voice seeking to establish a European orientation for neighboring Turkey.
Asked whether there was a risk that Greek-Turkish relations would deteriorate if Turkey failed to get a firm date for the start of accession negotiations from the EU in December, Stylianidis expressed confidence that this would be avoided, stressing the good personal chemistry between Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan, as well as the fact that they were both strong leaders that had only recently received the mandate to rule.
"This allows them to plan two to three years ahead and win the trust of their people, even when they are making difficult decisions. These conditions allow the two governments to come to an understanding, to raise and solve important problems," he stressed.
While stressing that Greece supported Turkey's efforts for rapprochement with Europe more than any other EU member-state, he also pointed out that Turkey will be judged on whether it succeeds with carrying out reforms.
"I believe that some step in the direction that Turkey desires will be made but I don't know how big it will be...What's important is that Turkey's reform effort not be interrupted because in reality it is a one-way road," Stylianidis added.
Source: Athens News Agency