The next step

Now that the tension of negotiations has eased, each member state is trying to weigh up its own interests in the light of the European Union’s go-ahead for Turkey’s membership talks. Greece and Cyprus have to see developments both through a European perspective and also through a national one – inevitably distorted by the outstanding problems in the Athens-Nicosia-Ankara triangle. At the Brussels summit, Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos both made an effort to safeguard their national interests. Regardless of what one thinks of the European Council decision, it will not change. This reality creates the need for effective diplomatic handling. Most observers believe that the period to come will not be an easy one, neither on the Aegean nor the Cyprus fronts. It is an open secret that the United States played a major role in helping Turkey snatch EU-candidate member status in December 1999 and to wrangle the European Council green light for membership talks last Saturday. Indisputably, our eastern neighbor did not meet the necessary requirements. However, now that EU-Turkish relations are moving beyond the level of political intentions and onto more specific issues, the support of the mighty guardian will not do. True, Ankara had to accept a number of unprecedented conditions that were attached to its membership bid. On the other hand, the door is now open. It is largely up to Ankara to prove its will to comply with, on one hand, the EU’s acquis communautaire and, on the other, the European mode of political behavior. Unfortunately, the early signs have not been particularly promising. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s arrogant statements that he has no intention of recognizing the Republic of Cyprus, as well as Turkey’s violations of Greek air space and territorial waters three days after Athens and Nicosia agreed to Turkey’s EU talks, reinforce the impression that the government in Ankara is entirely out of tune with European norms and demands. Turkey’s overall behavior is indicative of a mentality which essentially wants to get the privileges that go with EU membership but without the obligations. Its behavior is a sign of the true distance separating it from the Union. In any case, Athens and Nicosia are almost certain to face crucial challenges soon. Greek and Cypriot diplomats will have to be both flexible and adroit. But in order to achieve this, the two governments will have to make their political choices and determination clear.