A special relationship

Greece and Cyprus welcomed European Union pressure on Ankara during the two-day informal meeting of EU foreign ministers in Wales last week, following Turkey’s statement that its signature of the amended customs accord with the enlarged union does not mean recognition of the government on the southern part of the island. Athens and Nicosia now hope that the British presidency will come up with a revised proposal at the meeting of the EU’s permanent representatives on September 7. The text, which was formulated by the British presidency, merely states the obvious. Meaning that Turkey must sign as well as implement the customs union agreement with the 10 newest members, including Cyprus, and allow Cypriot ships and airplanes free access to Turkish ports and airports. It is interesting that in its attempts to stress its uniqueness and impose exceptions on Nicosia, Ankara has prompted European leaders to demand not only the approval but also the implementation of the protocol. It should be remembered that during the EU summit on December 17, Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos tried to raise the issue of the protocol’s implementation but received a negative response from French President Jacques Chirac. That, of course, was before France’s estrangement from Britain and, most importantly, before the constitutional debacle on the French referendum. The question of Cyprus’s recognition by the Turkish government before the launch of membership talks, set for December 3, was not raised at the December summit simply because none of Greece’s EU peers saw any need to react to this political absurdity. Any references in the text drafted by the British presidency stopped short of calling on Ankara to take action on the issue – none of the EU states at the Newport summit actually called for a more binding step. Any comments voiced on the fringes of the summit, such as those of French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy who reiterated a call for Ankara to meet its commitments, have relative significance only. Although Athens and Nicosia had great interest in pushing for a «counter-statement» against Ankara’s declaration, the most crucial issue for EU-Turkish relations was touched upon by Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, who on Thursday proposed that Turkey be given a special relationship, rather than membership. Plassnik’s proposal fell on deaf ears at the council. Nevertheless, Austria’s proposal, which echoes the stance of German election favorite Christian Democratic Union leader Angela Merkel, is the most reasonable offer. A special relationship would best suit the interests of the EU and Turkey as well as guarantee stability in Southeastern Europe. Democratizing Turkey to meet European standards cannot be done without risking the stability and integrity of the country. At the same time, Europe should not shut its door in Turkey’s face altogether. That is neither desirable nor useful. A special relationship would be best for all sides. Greece’s backing of Turkey’s EU accession is not a strategic goal but a tactic derived from failure to grapple with Ankara. If Athens has any strategy it should be to free Cyprus from Ankara’s grasp. That path was opened after Cyprus became a full EU member in May 2004.