Greece and Turkey move closer

Christopher de Bellaigue on hopes of a Mediterranean thaw

Ask punters in an Ankara meyhane what they think of their domestic politics, and they might, fortified by the national brew, describe it as Byzantine. As for customers in an Athens taverna, they could, between slurps on a similar, aniseed-based potion, liken their parliament to the Ottoman court. Both images suggest intrigue and betrayal, but from the perspective of relations between raki-drinking Turks and ouzo-drinking Greeks, this is no bad thing; the more their politicians have in common, the better.

Nowadays, in important ways, this is quite a lot. The Turks are happy to see that the Greek Prime Minister, Costas Simitis, having got the better of anti-Turks at home, is plodding determinedly away from the muscle- flexing of his predecessor, Andreas Papandreou. As for the Greeks, they are relieved that Mesut Yilmaz - another fine plodder - recently took over as Turkish Prime Minister from Necmettin Erbakan, whose Islamist inclinations meant that he was more interested in Libya than Greece.

The new configuration notched up its first success on 9 July, during a Nato summit in Madrid. Egged on by Madeleine Albright, Mr Simitis and Turkey's President Suleyman Demirel got together to talk about reducing tension between their countries. Theodoros Pangalos, Greece's Foreign Minister, and Ismail Cem, his Turkish counterpart, did the same. The result was the grand-sounding Madrid Accord, in which Turkey and Greece promised not to take up arms to resolve disputes in the Aegean Sea.

An important spur to better relations is Europe. Mr Simitis knows that being unkind to the Turks upsets his EU partners, who are fed up that Greece is blocking 375m ecus (pounds 260m) of funds earmarked for Turkey. As for Mr Yilmaz, he judges - correctly - that being friends with Greece will enhance Turkey's slim chances of EU membership. This view is shared by Mr Cem. On 18 July, the new foreign minister began his maiden press conference not with a traditional, anti-Athens broadside, but by suggesting that Turkey improve its dismal human rights record. He is supported by Turkish businessmen; they reckon bilateral trade - currently worth only $300,000 (pounds 185,000) a year - could rise to several billion if tension stays down.

The fly in the raki - or the ouzo - is Cyprus which also has aspirations to join the EU. But, there are signs of life there, too.

Earlier this month, the leaders of the Turkish and Greek areas met for the first time in three years. Yesterday, talks between Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash began at a luxury hotel overlooking Lake Geneva. The UN special envoy for Cyprus, Diego Cordovez said he did not expect the problem to be solved at the five-day meeting. Yet he was cautiously, pragmatically, optimistic.

"It will be different," he said. "We are changing the procedure. It has to be an incremental thing where you go slowly building an agreement. In the past, they started from zero and ended with zero. They started from zero trying to get one hundred."

But this will not be easy. On 16 July, the EU confirmed that it wants to begin negotiating Cypriot accession to the Union, which pleased the Greek Cypriot majority but infuriated the other side, which insists that Turkey be allowed in at the same time.

Never mind that the EU's decision had been expected, and that some EU members have said they will veto Cypriot accession unless the Turks agree; the EU's announcement has given voice to hawkish Turks - like Bulent Ecevit. An elderly nationalist with a famous mistrust for the EU, it was Mr Ecevit who ordered Turkish troops into Cyprus in 1974, after an Athens-inspired coup there threatened union with Greece. On 20 July, as Mr Yilmaz's new deputy prime minister, he announced that, rather than be shoehorned into the EU, Turkish Cyprus will "integrate partially" with Turkey. Last week, Turkey and northern Cyprus agreed to work towards partial integration, in an agreement which called for an Association Council.

The deal came under fire from Britain, America and others. They hope that Mr Ecevit will not influence Mr Yilmaz's policy of detente, nor further strain Turkey's relationship with the EU. If Mr Yilmaz gets his way, they hope, the thaw can continue.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Sheridan Maine: Finance Analyst

Circa £45,000-£50,000 + benefits: Sheridan Maine: Are you a newly qualified ac...

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£12 - £15 Hourly Rate: Sheridan Maine: Are you an experienced Accounts Assista...

Sheridan Maine: Financial Accountant

£150 - £190 Daily Rate: Sheridan Maine: One of London's leading water supplier...

Sheridan Maine: Portfolio Accountant

£30,000 - £35,000 Annual: Sheridan Maine: Are you a Management Accountant with...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor