Cyprus, the EU and Turkey

The decision made at the European Union’s Copenhagen summit in favor of Cyprus’s accession to the EU was greeted as an historic event by Athens and Nicosia, and it indeed represents a highly significant qualitative leap forward in the island’s progress since the Turkish invasion of 1974. But while the Greek and Cypriot leaders are enjoying the euphoric atmosphere surrounding Cyprus’s EU accession, the newly resurgent leader of Turkey’s ruling party, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, was without question a tragic figure at the Copenhagen summit. Erdogan had won the sympathy of the leaders of Europe and the USA, and his moderate response to the EU’s decision not to satisfy his demand for a starting date in 2003 for negotiations was duly acknowledged. But the fate of Erdogan will not be decided in European capitals or in Washington, and the question is what reception he will get from the traditional Turkish establishment on his return to Ankara. Erdogan’s objective was unattainable and his belief that he could convince the Europeans of the cogency of his arguments indicated political inexperience. He also seemed to overestimate the efficacy of the initiative by the US, which eventually welcomed the EU decision on Turkey, even though it falls short of the French-German agreement which at least stipulated a starting date for talks on July 1, 2005. The certainty that Erdogan will become prime minister is an ethical and political vindication. But from being a shadow leader – though extremely powerful – Erdogan will become a much clearer target as premier and thus more exposed to attacks by his opponents. The Greek government believes that Erdogan will struggle for three months to dominate the Turkish political stage, and hopes he will eventually prevail over the traditional Turkish establishment. Obviously a vigorous internal struggle in Turkey would be of more than academic interest to the Greek side, given that its consequences would be immediately felt by both Greece and Cyprus. Similarly, it is obvious that Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s support for the Turkish demand at Copenhagen will not force the Turkish establishment to retract its claims. In his triumphal post-summit interview, Simitis presented his vision for the creation of a new regional regime that would allow defense expenditure to be reduced and those funds channeled to spending on social policy, health and education. If Simitis is aiming to neutralize opposition and to convince the public that the prompt solution of the Cyprus issue is economically desirable, then his attempt is comprehensible, despite disagreements. But if he believes the Turkish establishment will collapse more or less automatically, drawn by Erdogan’s European dream, then he may be tragically mistaken.

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