A hectic August

August has always meant a time of vacations for most Europeans. This year, the month is spotlighting significant negotiations on the European political stage, following the intervention of French Prime Minister Dominic de Villepin on Turkey’s non-recognition of Cyprus. Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos is expected to hold talks with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis in Athens on Thursday, so Greece and Cyprus can hammer out a «common stance» on this issue. Having said that, it was entirely anticipated by Athens, Nicosia and other European capitals that Ankara would make a statement dissociating its signature of the protocol extending its customs agreement with the EU to all 25 member states from any recognition of Cyprus. British Prime Minister Tony Blair undoubtedly discussed this matter with Karamanlis and Papadopoulos (although this will likely never be officially confirmed). Papadopoulos and Karamanlis apparently made it quite clear what wording in Turkey’s statement they would not accept. Blair also had a meeting with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Blair evidently explained to Erdogan that, due to the negative climate prevailing in the European Commission, the wording of the statement would have to be clearly restrained. This is the strategy which countries holding the EU presidency always follow, and which Blair naturally followed, too. Following these negotiations, Ankara issued its statement explaining that «the signing, approval and implementation of the customs protocol does not amount to any recognition of Cyprus.» The statement also reiterated Turkey’s conviction that «Greek-Cypriot authorities do not exercise power and jurisdiction beyond the territory lying to the south of the buffer zone.» Immediately after the statement was issued, Papadopoulos said – as was expected – that it was unilateral and lacking any legal validity. And Blair evidently presumed that, as head of the EU presidency, he had handled the matter in an entirely competent fashion. However, the British premier had made a fatal mistake a few weeks before. Not only did he clash violently with France over the issue of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) but he criticized the economic policy of other EU partners, promoted the «supremacy» of the Anglo-Saxon model and more or less vowed to coach Europeans in matters of economy. In his exalted self-importance, Blair forgot that his country does not belong to the eurozone and thus cannot direct the EU’s economic policy. In view of this, it is hardly paradoxical that French PM Villepin decided to draw attention to the amateurishness with which Blair handled the Turkish question, while simultaneously serving some internal political aims. The French PM also raised some ethical questions but, primarily, he stressed that last December’s EU summit decision obliges Turkey to sign the customs protocol and does not give it any right to make any statement whatsoever. In short, Ankara’s insistent refusal to recognize Cyprus and the way in which Blair has handled the whole affair once again raises the question about how a country can hope to start accession negotiations with a bloc when it refuses to recognize one of the bloc members. This problem had always existed but was overlooked for obvious reasons, until Turkey’s customs declaration pushed it onto the European agenda. We should not expect Turkey to recognize Cyprus before October 3, when negotiations with the EU are due to start, but, if France insists, Ankara may be obliged to withdraw its declaration.