A chance to improve relations between Greece and Turkey? – The Organization for World Peace
Greece and Turkey have enjoyed tumultuous relations for centuries. Since Greece gained independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1830, the two countries have clashed in four major wars. They almost entered their fifth grade last summer during a naval dead end in disputed Mediterranean waters. Over the past year, reconciliation efforts have been repeatedly interrupted by sudden spells of hostility, a pattern that has long characterized Greek-Turkish relations.
Last month, direct talks finally resumed between the two NATO allies after a five-year hiatus. However, talks between the foreign ministers of Greece and Turkey eventually escalated into a public feud during the press conference over their countries’ grievances.
Yet on Monday, May 31, countries pledged to iron out differences – a commitment that was solidified by a scheduled meeting between Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and Turkish President Recep Tayyip ErdoÄan at the NATO summit in Brussels.
Scheduled for June 14, this is only the second meeting between Mitsotakis and ErdoÄan since the Greek Prime Minister took office almost two years ago. âWe have issues that have long awaited resolution,â Turkish Foreign Minister MevlÃ¼t ÃavuÅoÄlu said ahead of the conference after talks with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias. âOur dialogue must continue without interruption. On this subject, both parties are ready, we have reinstated it today, âhe added.
With the two foreign ministers anxious to avoid an outbreak like last month’s, Dendias described their meeting as the start of a “gradual normalization of the situation over time.” This is not the first push to resume formal negotiations, however; According to Al Jazeera, the two countries have held more than 60 rounds of meetings since 2002. However, little progress has been made, as neighboring nations have failed to even agree on the issues to be discussed. Will this last attempt at rapprochement be more fruitful? Given the weakening economic positions of Greece and Turkey and the strengthening of political positions of the United States and the EU, there is hope that this will be the case.
Burning issues dividing Greece and Turkey include contested territorial claims in the eastern Mediterranean, the passage of migrant boats from Turkey to Greece and the long-running conflict over ethnically divided Cyprus. In recent years, disagreement over the island’s legitimate maritime boundaries has been the main source of conflict. This was prompted by the recent discovery of significant gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean, as Greece and Turkey are in a race to develop the region’s energy resources, says the BBC.
In November 2019, Turkey signed an agreement with Libya which Turkey says created an exclusive economic zone between their coasts. Greece argued that the redesigned maritime borders violated its sovereignty and retaliated by signing a concurrent deal with Egypt, which it said nullified Turkey’s deal with Libya.
Tensions peaked last summer when Turkey sent a drillship into the disputed waters, causing a naval stalemate that almost resulted in all-out war. It also propelled France into conflict, whose government condemned Turkey’s actions and offered military support to Greece.
The decision of other nations to take sides has only fueled the fire. Yet Turkey’s increasingly confrontational foreign policy has remained largely unchecked by its most powerful allies: the United States and the European Union. âThe last four years under the Trump administration have been really characterized by, on the one hand, very erratic American behavior and, on the other handâ¦ a deep disconnection between the European Union and the United States,â said Nathalie Tocci, Director of the Institute. of International Affairs, in an interview with Al Jazeera.
Tocci believes the bifurcated attitude helped manifest the conditions for increased Turkish aggression. While Donald Trump was in power, the United States also withdrew its troops from the region and practically abandoned its historic role as arbiter in the Greco-Turkish conflicts. Thanks to Trump’s hands-off approach and his affinity for ErdoÄan, Turkey has come under little pressure to end its gunboat diplomacy in favor of peaceful negotiations.
Having Joe Biden in the office changes things, however. “Now all the regional parties, starting with Greece and Turkey, know that there is transatlantic synchronization,” Tocci explains. “The Biden factor is certainly crucial,” agrees Konstantinos Filis, executive director of the Institute for International Relations at Panteion University in Athens. “[Bidenâs] the insistence on human rights and democracy makes it imperative that Europeans follow. With the United States and the European Union more aligned, Turkey’s two most powerful allies must adopt a more united stance in the face of its provocations.
In recent years, the EU has done little to promote diplomacy between Turkey and Greece, as the bloc’s relations with Turkey have continued to deteriorate. While Turkey is technically still a candidate for EU membership, membership talks have stalled amid concerns over the decline in human rights and democratic values, Al Jazeera reports. The US and EU have repeatedly condemned provocations in the region and called for talks between Greece and Turkey, but have neglected to take more positive steps so far. However, with the national economies of Greece and Turkey in dire straits, the EU and the US are each in a position to play a more active role at the negotiating table.
The economies of Greece and Turkey have been ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic. The number of cases still ranks among the highest in the world in Turkey, which was already struggling to tackle soaring poverty rates and soaring unemployment. The country has also struggled with high inflation rates and a depreciating currency since the start of the 2018 debt crisis. According to Reuters, the Turkish lira has lost half of its value since then, and Turkey is rapidly running out of foreign currency reserves needed to support the economy. The pandemic has exacerbated the situation by hitting the Turkish tourism industry, on which it relies heavily for foreign currency inflows. This puts Turkey in a severely weakened negotiating position with the EU and the US, as it has to rely on tourism and trade to keep its economy afloat.
Greece has similar motivations for reconciliation as tourism accounts for 20 percent of its GDP and directly employs one-fifth of its workforce. European affairs analyst Yannis Koutsomitis told Ahval News Greece’s economic recovery has been the main incentive to strengthen ties with Turkey. “The protracted conflict with Turkey has undermined Greece’s economic prospects,” Koutsomitis said. With neither country able to alienate itself from its economic partners, the EU and the US have a rare opportunity to push for diplomacy between the two enemies on the basis of common interests.
Given the recent announcement that the Greek and Turkish leaders will meet at the NATO summit, it seems the two countries are in agreement. After talks with his Greek counterpart last month on strengthening economic ties, Turkish Foreign Minister MevlÃ¼t ÃavuÅoÄlu said concrete action has already been taken on 25 articles in various sectors, including transport, energy, trade and the environment. He also announced that countries will mutually recognize their COVID-19 vaccination certificates to boost their respective tourism industries this summer.
It is crucial that the EU and the US each do their part to ensure the continuation of diplomatic talks between the two rivals. This means moving from a policy which only discourages confrontation to a policy which actively encourages cooperation. Last year, the EU and the United States imposed punishments on Turkey, although ÃavuÅoÄlu warned in January that the sanctions would only worsen the prospects for reconciliation. In light of Turkey’s economic hardships, the best method of defusing tensions is one that rewards peaceful diplomacy by strengthening much-needed economic ties.
For the European Union, this probably means improving the customs union and perhaps considering a more liberal visa policy for Turkish citizens. These represent two of Turkey’s top priorities according to Al Jazeera and are the likely motivation for their restraint in the Eastern Mediterranean in recent months.
For the United States, that means leveraging its position within NATO. Turkey relies heavily on the alliance for its economic and military security, says report from the Center for American Progress.
In either case, if the EU and the US hope to bring lasting peace to the region, they must focus more on cooperative efforts rather than punitive ones. Finding common ground between Greece and Turkey in the form of economic incentives is the best way forward.
While the fundamental issues that divide Greece and Turkey are political rather than economic, the countries’ common economic issues provide a politically unburdened basis for cooperation. It would be a dangerous mistake to reject any modest attempt to gradually improve relationships on the premise that tackling burning issues immediately is the only way forward. In the wake of last year’s naval stalemate, which almost ended in war, de-escalation is a necessary intermediate step towards reconciliation. The fact that Turkey and Greece appear willing to cooperate on economic issues, given their common vulnerabilities, presents a rare opportunity to build enough momentum to move forward on the resolution of more thorny issues.