The EU and Turkey

The way in which Ankara officials bargained during the two-day Brussels summit is an indication of Turkish intentions, and the Europeans ought to take the signs into serious consideration. It is not just the arrogant statements voiced by Turkish officials. More importantly, it is Ankara’s demand to start down the path of EU membership on its own terms and not be subject to the conditions that have applied to all previous candidates. Clearly, some European governments would like to see Ankara’s European ambitions reduced to a special relationship between the predominantly Muslim state and the bloc. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s rebuff of such a prospect is understandable but, remarkably, most of his objections have targeted the recognition of the Republic of Cyprus. This is obviously a diplomatic maneuver which, however, also mirrors a political priority. Ankara’s tough bargaining is aimed at keeping the Cyprus issue outside EU contours – recreating the fate of the Greek-Turkish disputes. It has made no secret of its intentions and has consistently pushed in that direction. Turkey’s solid refusal so far has succeeded in shoving the question of Cyprus’s recognition off the negotiating table. And this is an institutional issue that should already have been settled. The refusal by a candidate state to recognize an already existing member constitutes an institutional anomaly that not only tarnishes the image of Nicosia but, most strikingly, the image of the EU itself. Erdogan has been at pains to convince European governments that recognition of Nicosia is not listed among the Copenhagen criteria. Indeed, there is no direct mention, but only for the simple reason that no one could have foreseen such a hitch. Even enemy states maintain diplomatic relations – not to mention a candidate country with an existing member. Ankara is in clear breach of the spirit of the Copenhagen criteria and anyone who refuses to acknowledge this is in denial. However, the recognition of Cyprus was not even on the cards during the Brussels talks. Nicosia was left asking for the signature of a Cyprus-Turkey customs union protocol, which is actually just short of indirect recognition. Erdogan objected to signing the protocol and the EU eventually backed down and requested a written commitment from the Turkish premier that he intends to sign the accord. Beyond diplomatic issues, Ankara’s demeanor is a sign of a broader mentality. Turkey wants the benefits of EU membership without the obligations. Its attitude demonstrates that it is a complete stranger to European civilization. It is showing the true distance that separates it from being a full EU partner.