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The Cyprus Stalemate in Turkey’s Ascention to the EU

November 28, 2006

Washington D.C. – The European Union Commission released a report on the status of Turkey’s effort to become a member state on November 8th. The report was intended to evaluate the country’s progress in those areas, such as freedom of expression, where the EU demands reform. The assessment that emerged is not positive. Concerns remain on the persistence of torture, on the lack of freedom of religion, on the weakness of women’s and trade union rights, on civilian control over the military, and on the rights of the Kurdish population remain.
Another contentious issue is that surrounding Cyprus. The division of the island into two separate Greek and Turkish communities is one of the most controversial problems in the sixth enlargement round involving Turkey.

Ankara started its path towards EU accession in December 1999, officially becoming a candidate country at the Helsinki European Council. In December 2002, at the Copenhagen European Council, the process was taken one step further. It was then determined that ‘if the European Council in December 2004, on the basis of a report and a recommendation from the Commission, decides that Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen political criteria, the EU will open negotiations without delay’. Finally, on October 3rd 2005, the EU and Turkey officially entered accession negotiations.

The start of the talks built some hope that Turkey’s bid to become a member of the EU would force Ankara to find a solution for the Cyprus stalemate. The relationship, always controversial, turned increasingly sour in 2004 when, in a referendum, Greek Cypriots voted against a UN-sponsored plan to reunited the island while Turkish Cypriots accepted the so called Annan Plan. The dispute has remained deadlocked ever since.

Since then, the EU has failed to fulfill its pledge to restore trade links with Northern Cyprus and Turkey has been retaliating by denying access to Greek Cypriot ships into its ports. However, by doing so, Ankara is in violation of the agreement underlying the negotiations, which requires Turkey to ratify the protocol for the extension of the customs union. This entails that Turkey must open its ports and airports to all ships and planes registered in Cyprus.

There is a risk that the Greek Cypriot administration could veto Turkish membership and this would undermine any possibility for a reunification of Cyprus, even in the long-term.
Thus far Greece and Greek Cyprus have already offered resistance to the progress of the negotiations by blocking the opening of talks in new policy areas, such as enterprise and industry. Greek Cypriot spokesperson Christodoulos Pashiardis stated on October 12th that their aim was “not to accept the opening of any of the remaining 34 chapters concerning Turkey’s accession until the 8 of November 2006, when Turkey’s progress report is issued.”   Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister George Lillikas added “Cyprus cannot act as if nothing is happening in EU-Turkey relations at a time when Ankara refuses to meet its obligations towards the EU.”
Turkish Cyprus on its part demands the unconditional lifting of its isolation and specifically asks for the establishment of direct flights from and to the Turkish Cypriot airport of Ercan and the opening of the Famagusta port.  Turkish Cypriot Mehmet Ali Talat, speaking in Istanbul after wrapping up a visit to EU headquarters in Brussels, said that “an illegal state like the Republic of Cyprus” should not be allowed to poison Turkey-EU relations.
The Finnish presidency is currently working at a compromise that can unlock the standoff. It laid out a plan to ease trade between Cyprus and Turkey, as well as between the northern Turkish part of the island and the rest of the EU. Finnish President Tuomioja said that leaders from all sides had welcomed the new initiative.  “That is a good prospect, because I think it is in no one’s interest, not in any member state of the EU, or in Turkey’s interest, that we fail,” he stated.

Cyprus Ambassador to Washington Euripides Evriviades also agrees. He told Washington Prism in an interview; “all parties involved in the Cyprus question should have an interest in solving it because the continued division of the island breeds insecurity and instability. The reunification of Cypriot society and the Cypriot economy will benefit all Cypriots in their joint future as EU members.”

According to Reginald Dale, Senior Fellow on the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington D.C., this is not entirely true. There are interests, both in Turkey and abroad, that are indeed opposed to the accession process. Many European citizens are concerned about Turkey’s size (it is estimated that by 2015 Turkey will overtake Germany as the most populous member), economic underdevelopment and identity as a Muslim country. These ever-present sentiments are growing stronger, due to the so called “enlargement fatigue”. Several member states feel that enlargement rounds have already gone too far and that the EU now needs time to solidify its new expanded borders.
On the Turkish side, opinion polls show that domestic support to the country’s accession to the Union has decreased significantly since the opening of the negotiations last year and it is now as low as 30%. “The closer Ankara gets to admission, the more people realize how difficult it will be for Turkey to implement EU rules.” Reginald Dale told Washington Prism in phone interview. Ankara entered the talks convinced that the Union too would have to compromise. “Instead the only compromise is how fast Turkey can meet EU demands and with what exceptions.”
As far as Cyprus is concerned, Ambassador Evriviades, despite expressing hopes that the contention can be solved successfully, makes the Cypriots’ position clear; “Unfortunately, Turkey continues to hold Cyprus as a hostage and relentlessly pursues a longstanding political objective of recognition of the secessionist entity by the international community and legitimizing the results of invasion and occupation.”
An unresolved Cyprus stalemate offers a spoiler that can play to the advantage of those in both parties opposed to a successful outcome of the negotiations. In fact, the EU Commission has talked of a possible “train wreck” in Turkey-EU relations over the Cyprus stalemate if no compromise is found.
The report of November 8th criticized the slowdown in the reform process and the failure by Turkey to meet treaty obligation.

Ambassador Evriviades in his interview with Washington Prism said; “The annual report of the European Commission on Turkey, clearly and in an objective manner, notes that Turkey has so far not implemented many of the European obligations it has agreed to undertake. A number of these involve Cyprus.”

He continues stating; “It is simply incompatible with the values of the European Union for Turkey to maintain an occupying force on territory of another member state and be responsible for human rights violations.”
The Commission has given Turkey a deadline to open its port to Cypriot ships. Unless Ankara does so by mid-December, it will face serious consequences. “Failure to implement its obligations in full will affect the overall progress in the negotiations,” the report says. “The Commission will make relevant recommendations ahead of the December European Council if Turkey has not fulfilled its obligations.”
Back in October, the President of the EU Commission José Manuel Barroso gave a very pessimistic outlook on the progress of negotiations with Ankara. He told the BBC: “We are concerned about Turkey because the pace of reforms is rather slow from our point of view. I believe it would be great to have Turkey if Turkey respects all the economic and political criteria. This is not yet the case. It is a country that comes from a different tradition. There are efforts in the right direction but nowadays there is news that is not encouraging in terms of them coming closer to us.”
“The prospects of Turkey becoming a member of the EU are much worse than they were a year ago when negotiations opened,” Reginald Dale told us.  The Cyprus issue is at the core of the deadlock. “I do not see a solution to the Cyprus issue in the immediate future,” the CSIS Fellow continued.
According to Dale, we should not only blame Turkey. The EU has its own responsibilities.  “Personally, I believe that the EU should have never admitted Cyprus before the Cyprus issue had been solved. By doing so, it lost its leverage with the Greek Cypriots.”
This does not mean the end of all hopes. “If you suspend the negotiations, at least for a while, it is not a fatal blow,” Reginald Dale believes. However, “the fact that the first problem that arises halts the whole process certainly does not set a very positive precedent.”

Originally reported and written for Washington Prism

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