The right balance

Following French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin’s toughened stance on Turkey, it remains to be seen whether France will try to make recognition of Cyprus a condition for opening Ankara’s EU talks. Unlike last December’s EU summit, the big European governments are now showing their cards. Ankara’s unilateral statement of non-recognition of Cyprus, attached to its customs protocol with the EU25, allowed France to dwell on respect for European principles – especially once the Turkish government opted to hold a parliamentary vote on both statement and protocol. A candidate state’s refusal to recognize an existing member is not just a political paradox. It is primarily an institutional and legal matter, but also one with practical implications given that Turkey must negotiate with the 25 member governments and not with the Commission. This is not just an affront to common sense but also to the legality of the EU. It is a matter between the EU and Turkey, not between Turkey and Cyprus. The EU will try to mold a common stance on the Turkish statement. Nicosia and Athens can underscore the need for recognition without having to set it as a precondition for negotiations. But if our EU peers demand this from Turkey, or if they ask Ankara to withdraw its unilateral statement, then Greece and Cyprus ought to follow suit. The British presidency is trying to weaken the French initiative. Placing the bar too high on Ankara, it claims, will derail it from the European path. It is basically exploiting the fact that Athens has made Turkey’s EU accession the cornerstone of its foreign policy, believing it to be the only way to keep Turkey in check. Such a policy, however, could put Cyprus’s recognition on indefinite hold. This is not unrelated to the clear disagreement between the Greek and Cypriot leaders in yesterday’s talks.