Krama magazine – Greece Takes the Lead in the Balkans
By George Papandreou
Last weekend, I visited Thrace. In towns in villages, I spoke with the inhabitants of this border region, with community and business leaders, with Christians and Muslims.
Thrace has a symbolic significance for me. The positive results of Greece’s foreign policy in the Balkans and Turkey are reflected in the inhabitants’ new sense of security, in their confidence and trust in our policies towards Turkey. The building of peace in the region has created a climate of mutual trust that has had a real impact on the everyday life of the inhabitants of Thrace. This change is an affirmation of our government’s policy of peace. During the next four years, our government will to continue to pursue a policy of principles, a policy of constructive dialogue, based on respect for international law, international treaties and the rules and values of the European Union.
Since our decision to support Turkey’s EU candidacy at the European Council of Helsinki in 1999, we have implemented a series of important initiatives which have improved our bilateral relations, with positive impacts on all aspects of Greek society and economy. Our decision to put Greek-Turkish relations into a new context was not simply a response to a status quo, nor merely tactical in nature. Our comprehensive strategy of developing peaceful relations with Turkey is gradually but decisively leading towards a resolution of our bilateral problems. It has also yielded a positive outcome regarding the accession of Cyprus to the European Union in May 2004, and created a new framework for a just and lasting solution of the political problem on Cyprus. Moreover, our policy of rapprochement has steadily strengthened the role and credibility of Greece in the European Union and on the international stage.
Although some problems remain, our two peoples have reacted positively to these peace-building initiatives. Greeks and Turks have expressed a real will to further develop mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence. Through non-governmental networks and business organisations, youth, women, and student organisations, Greek and Turkish citizens have overcome their historic distrust. Together, we are building a future of peace, development, stability and cooperation for the next generation.
Our policy is not only aimed at promoting the principles of peace and development; cultivating good neighbourly relations also safeguards our national interests. Promoting regional stability in a historically volatile region not only fortifies Greece; inspiring a greater sense of security and trust also contributes to economic and social development. As an investment in our future, this policy is the only credible course of action.
Naturally, we have not solved all our problems with Turkey. But we will continue to actively take initiatives until we achieve this goal. I am confident that our political will, together with Greece’s new international standing, will give us the strength to resolve our differences.
We have nothing to fear in taking these initiatives. Fear belongs to New Democracy, which is at an impasse. It mistakenly views proactive policies that protect our national interests as ‘unilateral concessions’. Just as New Democracy failed to grasp the positive dynamic of Helsinki, it now refuses to acknowledge the results we have achieved. The accession of Cyprus to the European Union and the new climate in Greek-Turkish relations are evidence of the wisdom of our strategy. Today, we have gained an important advantage in peace and security. This allows us to reduce both our defence budget and to reduce the duration of military service, which, in turn, directly contributes to greater economic development, greater social cohesion and solidarity.
In 2004, the year of the Athens Olympics, Greece will show the world that we have become a powerful force for security, stability and development in South East Europe. This will also be a year of important developments in Cyprus, with a new synergy of interests that creates the greatest ever likelihood of a solution to the political division of the island. The delimitation of the Aegean continental shelf is likely to be resolved, when this issue comes before the International Court in The Hague. And 2004 will be a milestone in Turkey’s relations with the European Union, with a decision on Turkey’s candidate status to be taken at the European Council in December. Greece’s foreign policy guarantees that we will achieve the best possible results in all these areas. Our government guarantees peace and stability, which are preconditions for economic and social development.