Having successfully integrated ten new members in May – including eight former communist countries with significantly lower levels of economic development – some argue that the EU should stop there. But drawing a line under the enlargement process would be both a missed opportunity for the EU and a cruel blow to those countries in the Balkans and elsewhere for whom the prospect of membership is an important incentive for reform and renewal.
Greece knows this very well. It was our belief in Europe as a catalyst for peace and prosperity that led us to support Turkey’s EU aspirations. When the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) government launched its policy of Greek-Turkish rapprochement during my tenure as foreign minister, many people were suspicious of mending ties with an old enemy. Changing entrenched attitudes could not happen overnight: it required a step-by-step process of confidence-building measures, from the grassroots level to the heights of political power.
Five years later, the results speak for themselves. Greece and Turkey have signed eighteen mutually beneficial agreements in areas ranging from trade and energy, to environmental protection and the fight against organized crime. There is no denying that strong bilateral ties are good for Greece’s economy and security.
But our proactive policy of rapprochement was not designed merely to serve national interests. It was part of a regional vision to promote stability from the Balkans to the Middle East. As a result, Greece and Turkey cooperated in humanitarian efforts in Kosovo and undertook a joint peace mission to Israel and Palestine. Greece and Turkey also worked together to prevent the war in Iraq from spilling over into neighboring countries.