Ankara’s EU path is strewn with obstacles

It is paradoxical but true. Instead of bringing Turkey closer to Europe, the manner in which it was set on the path to EU accession has tied it more firmly to the United States. It is not by chance, of course, that one of Ankara’s first reactions on being given the go-ahead for accession talks with the EU was to give public thanks to Washington. The telephone diplomacy of US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, combined with the provocative interventions of the British as rotating EU president, once again played a decisive role in overcoming hurdles. One indication of the paradoxical state of EU-Turkish relations is the fact that the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan hastened to state that the Cyprus issue must be resolved exclusively through the United Nations. This was an indirect but clear way of rejecting any idea of seeking a solution through the EU, in which Ankara already has one foot and which it hopes to join. Turkish interpretation The first statements on both sides confirmed that the road ahead will be turbulent. It is true that every country which has reached the point where Turkey now stands did so after a longer or shorter wait, but did eventually become a member of the club. This time, however, things will be different. The member states that want Turkey’s accession process to be deflected into a special relationship will be very strict in monitoring whether the criteria are met. On the other hand, it is obvious that Ankara will not be a good pupil. With the support of the UK-US camp, and having been spoilt by their favorable treatment in the past, it will most likely attempt to interpret its obligations in Turkish fashion. In other words, it will try to dodge – or at least blunt – the thorniest of them. The first signs will become apparent when the protocol for expanding the customs union to the 10 new member states is presented to the National Assembly for ratification. Erdogan’s government has forewarned that the protocol will be ratified together with Ankara’s unilateral declaration that it will not recognize the Republic of Cyprus. The EU’s Council of Ministers has issued a counter-declaration, but the European Parliament does not consider the problem solved, so it has postponed its ratification of the protocol. In fact, it has promised that if Ankara puts its warning into practice, the Parliament will not ratify the protocol, which will put a spanner in the works. The progress of EU-Turkish relations will be substantially determined by the outcome of the European enlargement project itself. If the EU gradually degenerates into a common market, as London and Washington wish, Turkey will eventually join. Its opponents will relent because there will be no longer be anything at stake. But such an outcome might be accompanied by the implementation of the notorious multi-speed Europe project. Although this has been under discussion for years, it is not viable at present because all member states earnestly desire to sit at the same table. This does not mean, however, that such initiatives will not be taken in the future, especially if the French-German camp retains its cohesion and takes on the role of the EU’s steam engine. If this happens, then Turkey will probably find a place in the outer layer of the EU. The likelihood of accession will diminish if the EU continues along the same lines as now. On one hand, this is because many member states will set traps for Turkey in order to deflect it into a special relationship and, on the other, Turkey itself will have to face painful dilemmas. «Joining Europe» is a stereotype for the Turks that was endlessly reinforced by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Stuck with that stereotype, the current regime cannot cast doubt on it now. But it is not prepared to face the consequences, among which are its own abolition. After all, one of the adaptation objectives is a change in the power structure. Another tremendous challenge to Turkey is to recognize ethnic minority rights for the 15-20 million-strong Kurdish community, at a time when de facto Turkish control over parts of Iraq may become recognized in law. This being the case, it cannot be ruled out that Turkey might shift tack and turn to the special relationship in order to solve its contradictions and avoid bitter consequences. In this confused situation, Athens is caught up in the clutches of its own stereotypes. Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis says that the diplomatic framework has covered all Greece’s national objectives, but the reality does not augur so well. It is true that there are some references to certain issues of Greek interest, but they are general and insufficiently binding. Experience has shown that statements such as the one about the need for good neighborly relations mean nothing in practice. The Ecumenical Patriarchate and the dwindling Greek minority of Istanbul and the islands of Imvros and Tenedos are sure to benefit from the proclamation of Turkey as a country in the EU accession process; but the same does not apply to problems in the Aegean. There is still no explicit demand for the Turkish National Assembly to rescind its resolution that the extension of Greek territorial waters constitutes a casus belli. And that is inconceivable for relations between a state that is in the process of joining the EU and a member state of that organization. The negotiating process repeated the reference that was made in the Helsinki decision of 1999 to «unresolved border disputes.» This time it was as a recommendation to Turkey to solve them «in compliance with the United Nations Charter including, if necessary, the mandatory arbitration of the International Court» in The Hague. Until then, Greece recognized the only dispute as being the delineation of the continental shelf. The term «border disputes» brought Turkey’s unilateral claims in through the back door: from the reduction of national air space from 10 to 6 miles to the «gray zones.» It is worth recalling that this formulation allows Ankara to ask that «border disputes» be resolved by arbitration – in other words, on political criteria – before any appeal to The Hague. Ankara believes that referral to the International Court will not be automatic. General Hilmi Ozkok has said so outright. In early 2002, the then-foreign minister, Ismael Cem, told CNN in Turkey: «As for the question of the Aegean, we accept all the proposals enumerated in the European Union’s Agenda 2000, and Article 33 of the United Nations Charter. Those documents enumerate six methods of solution: settlement by discussion, arbitration, indirect talks, mediation, and include an appeal to the International Court. We accept all of them.» Referring to his talks with Greece’s then-foreign minister, George Papandreou, he stated, and this was not denied: «First we find the points on which we agree. As to the points on which there is dispute, we resort to the other methods, in the order listed.» This may seem out of date, but it is not, since the Turkish stance remains unchanged. That is why Molyviatis’s claim that Greek national objectives are covered by the negotiation framework does not hold. He would be partly right if he admitted that it was difficult for him to go beyond formulations that had been accepted by the government of Costas Simitis and have in some way become a «diplomatic achievement.» Weak political will The main problem, however, is the government’s lack of political will to impose conditions on Ankara. It set the bar low and failed to grasp a unique opportunity because it deems Turkey’s entry into the accession process will prove to be in the Greek national interest in the long run. And it was out of line in this respect too, because it managed to turn Turkey’s objective into a national concern for Greece. With such a starting point, better results were not possible, even on the elementary question of full implementation of the customs protocol. There is simply no clearly binding formula. Indeed, the only hope is that enough member states will be willing to support Athens’s and Nicosia’s positions during the negotiations so as to raise obstacles to Turkey’s accession.