Greece Offers Turkey EU Welcome

This old cobblestone port is a place of grand unity for Greeks: the site where the first government was formed in 1828 after rebels cut a wedge out of the Ottoman Turks' doomed empire.

Now — with Turkey pressing hard to join the European Union (search) — the one-time Greek capital offers a setting to note the deep divisions over whether to welcome back the Ottomans' heirs.

Greek political leaders have displayed rare consensus in encouraging Turkey's EU aspirations, which face a crucial test at a two-day EU summit beginning Dec. 16.

Greek support has self-interest in mind: the belief that the EU carrot would help resolve quarrels such as divided Cyprus, disputed Aegean airspace boundaries and broader rights for the spiritual center of Greek Orthodox Christians (search) in Istanbul.

But the goodwill toward Turkey appears to fade quickly outside official circles.

"What a joke," spat retired seaman Stavros Vlahos, taking a post-lunch stroll on a pier in Nafplion, about 50 miles southwest of Athens. "We kicked the Turks out because they don't belong in Europe and now we'll let them back in. Why would we do this?"

This is a question being asked in many variations around the 25-nation bloc.

Adding Turkey would thrust the EU into unfamiliar territory. It would mean plunging deep into the Muslim world, taking on new burdens of rural needs and poverty, and tacking on a culture with strong attachments to both East and West.

EU officials were expected to wrangle to the last minute on whether to start entry talks with Turkey.

In Greece — which has nearly gone to war with Turkey three times in the past 30 years — the voices from the streets and from the seats of power often seem out of synch.

Greece's premier, Costas Caramanlis, repeatedly has stressed that Greece is fully behind their neighbor's "European orientation." There is some wiggle room, though.

Greece hints that its support for Turkey could become a bargaining chip for its wish list, including future Turkish recognition for new EU member Cyprus. The island has been divided between a Greek Cypriot-controlled south and a Turkish-occupied north since Turkey invaded in 1974 following an abortive coup by groups seeking union with Greece.

Cyprus has been unclear whether it would use its veto to derail Turkey's EU bid, but it often follows Greece's lead on key international affairs.

"Turkey's path toward Europe ... depends on its effort to comply with European laws and principles and particularly (on) its conduct toward the Republic of Cyprus," Caramanlis said at a state dinner in Cyprus last month.

Many Greeks wonder how it even got this far.

Turkey, to many Greeks, is still synonymous with Ottoman occupation and modern threats despite sharply improved political relations in recent years. There is also the painful memory of a disastrous 1921-22 military campaign in Asia Minor to reclaim territory, which ended in a Greek rout and a huge influx of refugees from Turkey. A year later, Greece and Turkey agreed to a massive population exchange as part of a border-drawing treaty.

Outside Nafplion, a member of a small nationalist party, the National Front, handed out fliers that recalled the Greek struggle to end Ottoman rule.

"It's an insult to the country to let Turkey join the EU," said the activist, Giorgos Potiris. "Remember the Trojan Horse? Turkey will be like that for the EU. It will enter and then destroy the EU because it is not European."

Such views could become more common if the EU moves ahead with entry talks but Turks fail to deliver on concessions to Greece, some political analysts predict.

"Greek public opinion is clearly opposed to Turkey's entry into the European Union and even to the start of negotiations. There is a great contrast between public opinion and the political establishment," said political commentator Giorgos Kyrtsos. "I guess there could be some form of reaction ... The winner could be (the far-right) parties."

There are other critics who already feel the EU is ready to abandon them in other ways: by shifting subsidies to new members.

The 10 new EU members accepted this year were heavily weighted toward former East Bloc nations that could swallow vast sums of agricultural and development funds. Two even needier nations, Bulgaria and Romania, could be next to join the bloc. EU largesse may shrink drastically to chronic aid-seekers like Greece and Portugal.

"Turkey will suck the EU dry," grumbled Dimitris Papakopoulos, stripping ripe olives from his small olive grove overlooking Napflion harbor. "Where will the money come from? I will tell you: more taxes and less help from Brussels."

But some wonder whether the tables could turn — with Greece eventually rethinking its EU backing for Turkey.

"I don't really think the government is enthusiastic about Turkey's EU drive. It's a matter — 100 percent, I feel — of convenience," said Nikos Dimou, a writer on social and political affairs. "They are thinking the EU will somehow tame Turkey to do what Greece wants. This is a very thin thread to base a policy. It could snap easily."