Bias and clumsiness

The biggest surprise in the current phase of Greek-Turkish relations has not been Turkey’s stance, nor even France’s reaction, but the naive way London has handled an issue whose complexity was quite obvious; clearly, British skill was not going to be enough. It is understood that Britain wants Turkey in the European Union, as serving Britain’s wider interests. What was surprising was that experienced British diplomats could not distinguish between an EU member state’s own position on an issue and its obligations when it holds the rotating presidency of the EU Council. London’s one-sided stance in favor of Turkey has been clear from the first moment it assumed the presidency. However, instead of warning – as it should have – the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, it consented to a statement on the non-recognition of the Republic of Cyprus. Paradoxically, Britain’s diplomats have overlooked the fact that introducing any new factor other than those agreed upon at the December summit would only reopen the EU-Turkey file. That is what has happened and Turkey’s statement was, if not the cause, then the excuse, for France’s reaction. The British EU presidency could then have tried to persuade Ankara to withdraw its statement so as to return matters to the way they were before – that is, with Turkey’s signature of the protocol. It did not do so and has thereby assumed the mantle of Ankara’s accomplice in negotiations at various meetings of the EU permanent representatives. Naturally all of this was obvious at the outset, but since the talks were being held within the framework of a negotiating body, no one raised any objections. Then, suddenly, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw decided to begin a public campaign in favor of Turkey’s accession to the EU, to the general surprise of all concerned, as no one expected such folly from a government official from the country holding the EU presidency. Straw’s article, published on Thursday in the International Herald Tribune, could almost be described as delirious. Straw resorted to a rhetoric that was virtually emotional. Addressing himself to EU citizens, the vast majority of whom are against Turkey joining the EU, he presented his arguments in favor of allowing this Muslim country to join the EU. Obviously satisfied with his arguments, he said that the only problem with Turkey’s membership in the EU «in part, is the still-unsettled issue of the divided island of Cyprus.» «Sadly, the UN-sponsored process to unite the island, supported by the EU, was not successful.» The only thing he does not actually say but clearly means is that the reason for this outcome was the 76 percent of Greek Cypriots who voted against the Annan plan. Straw has not realized that the Annan plan and the rejection thereof belong to history. The question at hand is Ankara’s statement that it does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus, raising problems regarding the fulfillment of the commitments it undertook in asking to join the EU. So it is not illogical that first Nicosia and then Athens have issued official statements accusing Britain of bias; so far it has carried out its duties as EU president in a manner that has not been in keeping with Britain’s traditions.