Athens, Greece (CNSNews.com) - Greek conservatives have warned that the socialist government's decision to end years of opposition against Turkey joining the European Union would weaken Athens' hand in negotiations with Turkey over continuing territorial disputes.
Greece gave the conditional go-ahead to eventual Turkish membership in the EU at last weekend's EU summit in Finland.
It took powerful earthquakes in Greece and Turkey before the bitter NATO-allies were able to close a diplomatic gap that became wider, despite years of effort to overcome it.
The summer's deadly natural disasters, which prompted both countries to offer each other assistance, sparked Greece's much softer stance at the Helsinki summit.
The move by the socialist Greek government was welcomed by a vast majority of Greek citizens - 74 percent according to one poll - but the opposition conservative New Democracy Party headed by Costas Karamanlis was quick to declare its disagreement.
Amid contrary views from members of his own party, Karamanlis declared that Prime Minister Costas Simitis should have insisted on Turkish commitments before giving the conditional go-ahead for eventual Turkish membership in the EU. He also charged that the government had abandoned national policy positions established over the last 25 years.
Speaking in Parliament Wednesday night, Simitis said the "historic" decision by Greece on terms for Turkey's candidacy "are a vindication of Greek policy."
"Greece attained all its aims in Helsinki, achieving a real and not virtual candidacy for Turkey. This, on the part of Turkey, implies acceptance of all criteria applying to the candidacy of any other country...
"It also implies acceptance of the principles of international law and treaties in foreign affairs as well as of the procedures for the peaceful resolution of differences through the International Court at The Hague, so that the rules of the game are clear," Simitis said.
Simitis said he believes that the problems with Turkey over Aegean Sea rights and the Cyprus problem will be easier to solve now that Ankara had taken the first step in becoming part of a united Europe.
However Karamanlis predicted Greece would now be in a worse position regarding Greek-Turkish affairs.
"The premier admitted that from 2005 on there will not be a mechanism of real penalties to force Turkey into compliance to international legality before its full accession to the EU. In other words, we will be in a worst starting point than today, meanwhile, our negotiating position will weaken within the EU," Karamanlis told lawmakers.
For the first time, he said, Europe had accepted the standing positions of Turkey - "with our participation."
"The European Council seems to recognize and legalize the Turkish territorial claims, leading us to across-the-board negotiations with Turkey without terms and preconditions, something that is its standing position for the last 25 years. There's a great truth: Greece is the only EU member-state threatened," Karamanlis said.
For his part, former premier Constantine Mitsotakis, the honorary president of New Democracy, backed the PASOK government's endorsement of Turkey's EU candidacy.
"It is better for the future to have a European Turkey rather than an isolated and bitter Turkey that could fall into the hands of extremists," Mitsotakis said.
Meanwhile, Greece appears to be heading for early general elections next March. It is widely believed that opposition parties will withhold their votes for the re-election of President Kostis Stephanopoulos, which would cause the parliament to be dissolved. Ruling PASOK does not have enough seats in Parliament to re-elect Stephanopoulos.
An opinion poll taken just before the EU Summit showed the PASOK party ahead with 31.6 percent support, followed by New Democracy with 30.6 percent. Those still undecided totaled 21.6 percent.
Simitis received the confidence of 41.9 percent of respondents, compared to 31.2 percent for Karamanlis.