The EU’s counter-declaration and Ankara’s hopes

There is no doubt that if Athens in particular had handled matters differently, the counter-declaration made by the 25 European Union member states (in response to Turkey’s declaration that customs union did not imply recognition of Cyprus) would have been clearer and more binding on Ankara. Given how the issue transpired, however, the final text is fairly satisfactory. The positive elements were retained and the pressure that was brought to bear largely neutralized the traps introduced by the British EU presidency. One positive element is the formulation that the Turkish declaration «is unilateral, is not part of the protocol and has no legal effect on Turkey’s obligations relating to the protocol.» Another is the clarification that full implementation of the customs union includes lifting «restrictions on means of transportation.» As for the traps, London’s attempt to create a time link between Ankara’s recognition of the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey’s accession was neutralized. The EU is no longer asking only for a «normalization of relations as soon as possible.» It also states that «the recognition of all member states is an essential component of the accession process.» Obviously none of that is very clear or binding in any specific manner; but on the other hand, these observations do not close the door. To the contrary, they leave it open to Cyprus to raise the issue of recognition, in time, and when it judges that the balance of power within the EU is favorable. The same applies to the second point in contention. If, after the protocol is ratified, Turkey persists in its present stance of barring ships and airplanes from the Republic of Cyprus from its ports and airports, Nicosia will be able to raise obstacles to the membership talks. The final text not only provides for the painless penalty that «the opening of negotiations on the relevant chapters depends on Turkey’s meeting its contractual obligations to all member states,» it also contains a provision that Turkey’s «failure to completely implement its obligations in full will affect the overall progress in the negotiations.» In practice, this means that if Ankara bans Cypriot ships from approaching Turkish ports next year, Nicosia will also be able to raise the issue of freezing the membership talks. It cannot impose this on its own, but there are indications that as time passes, many other member states will be prepared to play such a card. In conclusion, the final document also neutralizes London’s attempt to make an indirect but clear link between recognition of Cyprus and the resolution of the Cyprus issue by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, as desired by Ankara. The statement in support of Annan’s efforts is stereotyped and perfectly legitimate, all the more so since it is set in the context of the Security Council resolutions and the «principles on which the EU is founded.» This formula introduces the political dimension of a solution in line with EU standards. Ankara allowed its fears to surface when it accused the Greek Cypriots of trying to shift the process of solving the problem from the UN to the EU. It also tried to create a fuss and to foment concern within the EU by claiming that the counter-declaration would hamper the process of reaching a solution. The counter-declaration, now a part of the EU acquis communautaire, is part of the negotiating framework with Turkey. At least that is what Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos told the National Assembly of Cyprus. At any rate, it is a viable political position and not a theoretical pronouncement. Sources say that Nicosia will raise the issue at the EU summit in spring if Ankara has not fully implemented the protocol by then. As for the normalization of relations between Cyprus and Turkey, the European Commission is obliged to make regular reports. Turkey’s reactions do not make for a realistic policy, but are clumsy maneuvering in a vacuum, which does not resolve Ankara’s basic contradiction. And that arises from the fact that its policy on Cyprus – among other things – conflicts with its aim of joining the EU. In this sense, it will soon find itself facing tough dilemmas.