EU a la carte?

The deciding factor in international relations remains the national interest, not justice. Still, even the strongest states must show some basic respect for international law in order to prevent the global arena from descending into chaos. Questions of legality have always been quite elastic, particularly in the eyes of the strong. But it’s certainly not in their interest to do away with it altogether. Ankara’s unilateral statement which said that signing the customs deal with the European Union’s newcomers does not mean that recognition of Cyprus is now basically at a dead end. The move is totally out of line with international norms and principles. The refusal by an EU candidate country to recognize an existing member of the bloc is a direct challenge to the union per se. No amount of hypocrisy is enough to ignore this challenge. The maneuver did not just raise political questions; it touched upon the EU’s institutional and legal foundations. Turkey will not negotiate its accession with the Commission but with the 25 EU governments. That, of course, also includes the Republic of Cyprus, which Ankara has stubbornly refused to recognize. This paradox alone demonstrates the extent of the institutional/legal conundrum. The issue goes far beyond the gray zone of diplomatic expediency. It not only trespasses the fundamental values of the European project; it actually violates a long tradition of Western rationalism, trying to drag the Union into eastern practices, into the bazaar. Without doubt, recognition of Cyprus would mark the end of Turkish policy inaugurated with the declaration of statehood in 1983 by the breakaway state on the northern part of the Mediterranean island. On the other hand, Ankara’s membership ambitions are out of sync with its policy of non-recognition. But things have come to a point where Turkey’s European path goes through Cyprus. The longer Ankara refuses to adapt, the harder it will be for Turkey to reach its strategic goal. In a sign of Ankara’s intransigent mentality, even though the government signed the protocol extending its customs union to include the 10 new EU members, it has declined to put it into force. In fact, the government said that Cypriot ships and airplanes will not be allowed to use Turkish ports and airports. What the Turkish establishment wants is an EU a la carte. Turkey wants to enjoy all the possible advantages and, at the same time, minimize its obligations to the Union. However, backing down on Europe’s political standards would be a blow to the whole European enterprise.