SETA > Opinion |
The path to sustainable Turkish-Greek relations

The path to sustainable Turkish-Greek relations

The visit of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to Türkiye on May 13 has sustained cautious optimism in Greek-Turkish relations.

The visit of Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis to Türkiye on May 13 has sustained cautious optimism in Greek-Turkish relations. There is no strong belief on either side that the longstanding issues can be resolved swiftly. This sentiment was evident at the news conference following the Ankara summit between President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Mitsotakis, where no road map for resolving bilateral problems was announced. Mitsotakis’ visit followed Erdoğan’s December 2023 trip to Greece, during which historic agreements were signed. Therefore, the current state of Turkish-Greek relations appears to be characterized by acknowledging disagreements while the normalization process continues to deepen. At this point, several key issues stand out in bilateral relations. First and foremost is the political goal and will to make the normalization process sustainable. The historical course of Turkish-Greek relations shows that building a fully sustainable model is not always easy. In recent years, their interactions have seen many ups and downs. However, the agreements signed during Erdoğan’s visit to Athens and the new processes based on these agreements underscore the importance of strategic dialogue between the two countries.

Erdoğan's foreign policy vision

The second important point is the strong leadership of Erdoğan and Mitsotakis. Erdoğan was reelected with strong popular support, and Mitsotakis won the elections in Greece. Both leaders now have four years ahead of them without the immediate pressure of elections. This situation provides a crucial advantage for establishing a sustainable relationship model. President Erdoğan’s foreign policy aims to make a holistic normalization process permanent and to consolidate a cooperative security approach. This goal does not signify that Türkiye has abandoned its ambitious foreign policy objectives; instead, it supports and deepens them. Erdoğan intends to use the next four years to reposition Türkiye in the regional and global political environment and to expand its foreign policy space. In this context, creating a sustainable, tension-free model for Turkish-Greek relations is vital, given the strategic dynamics at play. Similarly, Mitsotakis likely views Greece as part of a broader, dynamic strategic environment and values relations with Türkiye. Rather than placing Greece solely on the axis of problems with Türkiye, Mitsotakis seems to understand the importance of fostering a stable and cooperative relationship. Another important factor in Turkish-Greek relations is the involvement of third parties, which often harm bilateral interactions. Ankara generally opposes the involvement of third parties in resolving issues between the two countries, while Athens is more inclined to involve the European Union. Additionally, European countries such as France and Germany, along with Washington administrations, have historically played significant roles in these relations. One of the notable advantages of the current normalization period is that these actors appear to support the dialogue process between Türkiye and Greece. This development is viewed positively by both countries, as it facilitates a more constructive and cooperative environment for addressing bilateral issues. This strong political will and the atmosphere of normalization in relations are strongly supported by both societies. Although some politicians in Greece hold rigid policies and harsh discourses toward Türkiye, these views do not find significant resonance in macro politics. On the other hand, Türkiye’s lack of response to some marginal statements minimizes the impact of extremist discourses. Greek public opinion also supports the normalization process, reflecting a broader desire for improved relations.
Strong public support for normalization
In Türkiye, there is strong support for normalization from the government and other political actors. The Turkish public appears to have a positive attitude toward Turkish-Greek relations, backing the normalization efforts. This popular support is one of the most crucial elements for the sustainability of relations, and there is a strong likelihood that it will continue. The mutual public endorsement in both countries thus forms a solid foundation for a lasting and stable relationship. Despite all these advantages, it should be underscored that regional developments always have the potential to impact bilateral relations negatively. The two countries have differing policies toward the ongoing war in Gaza, the Ukraine crisis and other regional security issues. For instance, Erdoğan’s news conference with Mitsotakis highlighted the difference in their approaches to Hamas. These divergent stances on regional matters can pose challenges to the normalization process, emphasizing the need for ongoing dialogue and cooperation to navigate these complexities. In the near term, the two countries may leverage the uncertainty caused by the regional environment to become closer. The reshaping of Türkiye-Europe relations in the aftermath of the Ukraine war has positively influenced Athens’ approach to Türkiye. Potential cooperation in energy and the trade potential between the two nations could further cement normalization efforts. While none of the historical problems in Turkish-Greek relations have been resolved, there is a strong will to establish a sustainable basis for their interactions. This shared commitment to normalization stands out as the most important advantage in their relations. [Daily Sabah, May 17, 2024]