Greece and Turkey have a catastrophic and monumentally difficult historical relationship. Spanning over two millennium. There have been innumerable conflicts, occupations, religious differences, atrocities, and unresolved border arguments. In spite of many similarities in the cultures ranging from cuisine to music to topography, the differences have generally prevailed over any common threads.
Nevertheless, relations between the two countries, that traditionally were characterized by mutual hostility and extreme mistrust, have softened over the last decade or so. Part of this has been realized serendipitously by the cooperation and relief assistance offered by both countries to each other in the aftermath of massive earthquakes suffered by both nations in the late 1990’s.
Of equal, and perhaps more enduring importance, is the fact that the Greek leadership, together with the EU, has linked Turkeys entrance into the European Union with the resolution of Greece-Turkey disputes. Softer stances on both sides have prevailed for the last decade and many provisions and cooperation agreements have been realized during this period.
However, none of the structural problems have been resolved. These include sovereignty rights over some Aegean waters and the Cyprus issue. ‘Shallow reconciliation’ is a more accurate description of relations between the two countries than the hoped-for ‘deep cooperation’.
The impetus for Turkey to implement their ‘zero-problems with neighbors’ policy received a significant boost when the membership in the EU, as mentioned above, was formally linked with the resolution of Greek-Turkish border issues and the Cyprus question. This has lost some of its influence over the last few years, though, as the Sarkozy/Merkel dominated EU policy has diminished the apparent ability of Turkey successfully joining its western neighbors.
One result of this is that optimism about becoming a member of the EU among the Turkish population has declined roughly 30% in the last two years and the majority of the people there believe that Turkey will never be accepted as a member In the EU. This projection inevitably undermines the role of the EU in Turkish/Greek foreign policy-making agenda.
How this all portends for the future and for the two countries’ neighbors in the region will be addressed in the next segment of this blog.