Europeans shift on Turkey

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin, who said Tuesday that Ankara should recognize Cyprus before it begins its own EU accession talks on October 3, has been joined by other European officials expressing similar sentiments. Austrian politicians and Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU) have echoed his views, while French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy yesterday repeated Villepin’s criticism, indicating a more general shift of policy toward Ankara. The European turnabout does not derive from a re-evaluation of the Cyprus issue. The change appears, rather, to stem from the constitutional debacle in the French and Dutch referendums. Voters in the two Western nations signaled their deep disillusionment with the policies of European leaders. The question of Turkey’s EU membership – a highly controversial one in the eyes of European publics – is a good example of how European elites have turned a deaf ear to their electorates. The governments are now adjusting their course, as it were, and this inevitably also has an impact on Turkey’s aspirations. Independent of any domestic political concerns in France or Germany, there is little doubt that Villepin’s criticism is in keeping with international law; his is also one of the few voices seeking to rescue EU credibility on the issue. As the French foreign minister put it yesterday, «Not wanting to recognize one country in the Union while wanting to join, that’s not acceptable.» Recognition of existing members is a fundamental precondition that the EU could not afford to ignore without undermining its political and legal status. Ongoing political developments can become a catalyst, making Ankara realize that it cannot turn its back on fundamental and self-evident conditions. Circumstances are moving in a positive direction. Greece must be cautious yet also decisive. It must exploit the current juncture to get the maximum for Cyprus without risking tension over the Aegean. Greek governments have backed Turkey’s EU ambitions in the hope that Ankara will one day comply with the EU’s body of law, the acquis communautaire. Otherwise, Turkish membership will be pointless and potentially harmful. Caution must not be confused with inactivity. A Cyprus peace settlement and Turkish respect for international law will not come without Greek diplomatic pressure.