LUXEMBOURG (Reuters)–Greece vetoed the release of European Union financial aid to Turkey on Monday–frustrating a bid by the rest of the 15-member bloc to repair relations with Ankara.
The move put Athens on a potential collision course with its EU partners–who want to make the gesture to Turkey because it was a promise and might help restore dialogue with an important neighbor and ally.
EU foreign ministers–meeting in Luxembourg–agreed by 14 to one that it was time to release the 375 million ECU ($410 million). But the Greek delegation refused to give its consent.
"We were confronted with a Greek veto," French Minister for European Affairs Pierre Moscovici told reporters.
Without an agreement to release the funds–Turkey is unlikely to respond positively to EU efforts to restart a dialogue cut off last December by Ankara after the EU declined to name it as a future candidate for membership.
The EU-Turkey row has crippled efforts to resolve a long-running dispute over Cyprus and increased already serious strains between Athens and Ankara. Greece agreed on Monday that Turkey should be invited to join an EU "association council" meeting–possibly in late May–but it refused to bend on the move that would induce the Turks to take part.
Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos suggested the rest of the EU was going soft on Turkey–ready to let it force its way into the European fold. But Greece was not about to appease behavior it considered neither "civilized nor modern."
Pangalos distributed a 13-page document to fellow ministers entitled "25 Years of Turkish Provocative Behavior Towards Greece," including a map showing islands recently claimed by the Turks in the Aegean Sea.
"Instead of telling them (Turkey) that you cannot impose ultimatums on the European Union–there are proposals to run after them and give them gifts," he said.
Greece argues that concessions will not soften Turkey’s stand on Aegean Sea disputes.
"This money belongs to all of us but I am the only one who is going to suffer when Turkey gets the impression it can go on misbehaving," Pangalos told reporters.
The money was voted to Turkey by the EU in 1995 to help it cope with the impact of a customs union it had concluded with Brussels. It has remained blocked ever since.
Asked if he were not concerned that Greece’s EU partners were getting fed up with its obstruction–Pangalos bristled and replied that he was no more afraid of "mean and vicious colleagues around the table" than former British leader Margaret Thatcher had been.
France’s Moscovici said the EU ministers "made clear to the Greeks that they want the money unblocked–not that Turkey is perfect but simply because it is one of our commitmen’s."
"We know for sure now that the Greeks will not lift their veto. We will have to find a new way forward," he said.
Pangalos complained that fellow EU members were not displaying sufficient solidarity with Greece in its efforts to resolve its territorial disputes with Turkey–which Athens says should be handed to the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Pangalos also said that Turkey had laid claim to "four more–populated Greek islands" in the Aegean–further complicating the dispute. They were named in a Greek document–which included a complex map of the area–as Fournoi–Agathonisi–Farmakonisi and Pserimos.