Diplomatic poker: Turkey’s EU accession

Over the past year, European officials have been urging Ankara to fulfill its commitments to the European Union within the framework of the accession process. However, this urging is conspicuously absent from the draft report prepared by European Commissioner Olli Rehn. In fact, so as to leave no doubt about his intentions, the commissioner for enlargement included a reference in the report to the 10 proposals made by Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul (in January 2006) but which had long since been tossed out. It is clear that the USA and its supporters within the EU are doing what they can to make things easy for Ankara. However, Nicosia has refused to pay such a heavy price to avert a stalemate in EU-Turkey relations. When in December 2004 the EU’s then 25 member states discussed the beginning of accession talks with Turkey, Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos had put forward the demand that Turkey recognize the Republic of Cyprus. The other EU leaders had then brought heavy pressure to bear on him to accept the minimum, which was the customs union. In the summer of 2005, Ankara issued an official refusal to implement the relevant protocol. In response, the 25 made it clear to Turkey that the fulfillment of its obligations was a condition for any progress in the accession process. A year later, Ankara is still persisting in its refusal. Finland (which currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council), in close cooperation with its commissioner, Rehn, has in practice linked the implementation of the protocol with the unrelated question of the EU’s pending regulation of trade with the Turkish Cypriots. This is not only due to the appropriate desire on the part of any EU presidency to avert a stalemate, but to the intervention of the US and Britain in the form of pressure on Helsinki to manipulate the situation so that Nicosia can be blamed for any breakdown in the negotiations. Finnish initiative The gist of the Finnish proposal is: * For Turkey to open up two or three ports and airports to Cypriot ships and airplanes. * For trade between the EU and the Turkish Cypriots to take place though the port of Famagusta under EU supervision. * For the fenced-off area of Famagusta (Varosha) to come under UN administration, although Greek Cypriots who own property there would not be able to return for an unspecified period. Since the proposal is still under negotiation, it has not actually been rejected by either Ankara or Nicosia. In any case, both sides are trying to avoid blame for any breakdown. The Cypriot government wants Greek-Cypriot property owners to be allowed to return to their land on the basis of a short-term timetable. On the other hand, the Turkish side is asking for the legalization of Tymvou airport in the occupied sector and appears unwilling to relinquish control of Varosha. Ankara claims that it will let go of Varosha if the Cypriot question is solved. However, there has been no settlement in this area precisely because it was destined to be part of an exchange with the Greek Cypriots in the framework of an interim agreement. Now that such an agreement is being discussed, Turkey is trying to secure the opening of the Varosha port without giving anything in return. The Greek Cypriots hope that their contacts with the Finnish EU presidency will result in a final proposal that is in line with their conditions and one that they can accept. However, they do not rule out the possibility that a last-minute draft closer to Turkey’s positions could be tabled. In that case, Ankara will be able to accept it, while Nicosia will be obliged to reject it and accept the blame. For the time being, the situation remains unclear, pending the Finnish proposal and the Commission’s report. Papadopoulos has made his point but obviously does not want to be the one to say «no.» According to reliable sources, Cypriot Foreign Minister Giorgos Lillikas’s visit to Paris showed that Cyprus is not at immediate risk of finding itself isolated. Nicosia fears that France might move back a step with regard to Ankara in order to defuse the crisis that resulted from France’s recent law on the Armenian genocide. However, the assurances Lillikas received from his interlocutors were that France would stick to its position, ensuring a good correlation of forces for Cyprus within the EU. Moreover, Papadopoulos has no intention of forcing the situation more than the atmosphere allows. If the Finnish initiative is unsuccessful and Turkey does not open its ports and airports, he is not about to call for the cancellation of accession talks with Turkey. He is ready to discuss freezing them for a year on the condition that they resume only if Ankara has fulfilled its commitments to the EU. Nicosia hopes this flexible tactic will provide a dignified way out both for the EU and for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is facing a critical election next fall. Moreover, it will make it easier for Athens to avert a complete breakdown of Turkey’s EU accession talks. ‘No’ to British What Nicosia does not accept is Britain’s proposal to freeze only those parts of the accession talks (from three to eight sections, according to the interpretation) that refer to the customs union. In reality, this is an outright diplomatic trick. If it were to work, Ankara could keep its ports and airports closed for many years at no cost. Given that the accession negotiations are expected to last over a decade, it would have no problem leaving the «frozen» sections for last. The diplomatic tug of war currently being played out goes way beyond the Nicosia- Ankara conflict. It is clear – and an insult to the EU’s credibility – that it is agreeing to bargain with a candidate country over what is self-evident. London at least is being consistent, since it does not want unification. However, the same does not apply to capitals that have sworn their allegiance to the European Union.