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A return to dialogue 30 août 2006

Posted by Acturca in South East Europe / Europe du Sud-Est, Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.

Der Spiegel (Germany), August 25, 2006

By Cem Özdemir and Hakan Altinay * 

In its role as European Union president, Finland has inherited an enormous problem: the Cyprus conflict. But the problem can only be solved if it is delinked from the question of Turkey’s future membership in the European Union. 

Finland assumed the presidency of the European Union this summer and with it inherited an oversized problem: Resolving the Cyprus conflict. Just two years ago, this protracted problem seemed to finally be on the verge of resolution. But the Greek Cypriots refused when they, at the behest of their leader, President Tassos Papadopoulos, voted against the United Nations-brokered settlement known as the « Annan Plan. » The Turkish Cypriot side, on the other hand, who until recently were shunned by everyone but Ankara, backed the UN Plan with a large majority in a separate referendum. The Greek Cypriot rejection was a huge blow to the international community, since the UN, the EU, and Turkey had invested considerable effort into winning support for the plan.

Given all the other problems in the world, Cyprus is relatively easy. The contours of the solution have been well-defined for decades. Yet both sides have always held off on final consensus in anticipation of marginally better deals for themselves in the future. The long-time leader of the Turkish Cypriots, Rauf Denktash, was notorious in this regard, but the current Greek Cypriot administration, in power under Tassos Papadopoulos since 2003, plays in the same league. Leading up to the 2004 referendum, they even went so far as to stop the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Günter Verheugen, from appearing on Cypriot television.

Verheugen later told the European Parliament that he felt cheated by the Greek Cypriot leadership. In early 2006, former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told the House of Commons that Cyprus’s accession to the EU succeeded only because the past Greek Cypriot administration cooperated very well with the international community — and that the current government never would have made it into the EU.

Since every member state can exercise its veto on matters of enlargement, the Greek Cypriot administration decides on not only Turkey’s accession to the European Union, but rather on the adoption of each of the 35 negotiation chapters. At the EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg this past June, Cyprus immediately made it clear to everybody what that can mean. They insisted on attaching Turkey’s refusal to open its ports to Cypriot ships to the completion of the first chapter of negotiations, which addressed science and research in Turkey. There are 34 chapters which remain to be negotiated in Turkey’s accession bid and one can easily imagine the roll Cyprus will play in the talks.

Two days after the referendums in Cyprus, in a nod towards their good behavior, the European Council unanimously decided to end the economic isolation of the Turkish part of the island. Since then, not much has happened, however. The EU must finally make good on its decision. The International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based think tank, even describes the EU’s decision as « worth less than the paper it is written on. » In a time of rising nationalist sentiments among the EU member states themselves, the Turkish Cypriots voted pro-Europe. Yet they are kept out of the EU, while their nationalist and maximalist Greek compatriots got into the Union through deceit. In Kosovo, the EU is getting ready to assist the Kosovars to opt out. But when the Turkish Cypriots would like to opt in, the EU turns a blind eye.

Finland would do well to uphold the EU’s previous promises in the Cyprus conflict. The Finnish presidency should encourage the Greek Cypriot leadership to return to the dialogue so that dialogue does not become completely derailed in the end. Indeed, the EU must, in any case, make it clear that its words are indeed worth more than the paper it is written on. Otherwise the EU will lose its most ardent supporters in Turkey and, in the process, squander a remarkable chance to expand its soft power in the world and its neighborhood, just when it is most urgently needed. It almost appears as if the widely-held belief that Turkey and the governing AKP party are depending on EU membership is fueling the EU’s discriminatory and overly confident posturing.

The real state of affairs is different. Support for the AKP would skyrocket in the polls if it were to be less friendly towards the EU and to make an appearance of standing up to the might-makes-right body language of the European Union. To be sure, Turkey and the AKP still want EU membership, but not at any cost. The AKP cannot move any further on the Cyprus problem — nor could any democratically accountable government — until the EU delivers on its earlier promise to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots. Were the Greek Cypriot administration to support UN efforts in good faith, then the EU could encourage Turkey to withdraw its troops from the island. However, it would be a sign of incapacity for the Union, if the EU yields to the Greek Cypriots’ maximalism as a low-cost way to kill Turkey’s EU aspirations.

The Finnish presidency would already have accomplished something if it would remind Cyprus that membership in the club carries with it not only national, but also European, responsibilities. The Greek Cypriot leadership’s intransigence should not be allowed to take the accession agenda of Turkey hostage. Turkey has very serious problems of her own, and the pre-accession period must be used to enact reforms to overcome these problems — and the EU should dedicate itself to seeing this process through, rather than risk its reputation in the indulgence of Greek Cypriot maximalism.

The first meeting in two years between the Greek Cypriot president and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, which took place in July in Nicosia, shows there is hope — also because Finland could use the first signs of a thaw in tensions as an opportunity for mediation. Although a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem will most likely need to wait for a new Secretary General at the UN, provided that Turkey and Turkish Cypriots continue to cooperate with UN efforts, Turkish accession to the EU must become delinked from the Cyprus question.

* Cem Özdemir is a member of the European Parliament. Hakan Altinay is the executive director of the Open Society Institute in Turkey.


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