Wasted chance

The failure of European Union ambassadors to agree on a counter-declaration to Turkey’s non-recognition of Cyprus has again exposed EU divisions over Ankara. London is being faithful to its long-term strategy. The British want to see Turkey in the EU, for that serves their vision of Europe. However, some of the authentic champions of an ever-closer union believe they can really promote European integration by lowering the bar for Turkey’s entry. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin could not disguise that France used Ankara’s refusal to recognize Cyprus as a pretext to block Turkish aspirations. At that point it was up to Athens and Nicosia to exploit the favorable juncture and tie the Turkish establishment’s hands – which meant full implementation of the customs union pact and a timetable for recognition. The objective conditions were there, but the political will wasn’t. Nicosia wavered. It wanted to exploit the opportunity but it (unreasonably) feared that postponing the Oct. 3 date would harm its national interests. Greece has elevated this date (when Turkey’s EU’s accession talks are to begin) into a foreign policy dogma and is making sure Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos does not delay it. Nicosia was cautious, so the issue of non-recognition – a major political and legal paradox – remained an EU-Turkey issue and did not become a Cyprus-Turkey one. But it should have made clear that it would back those EU members who demanded the most of Turkey. Rather, Nicosia tried to compromise two impossible stands. As soon as Austria and Paris saw that Cyprus – which has more at stake than any other state – failed to respond, they changed tactics. Austria demanded a privileged partnership while France reached a deal with the British about the counter-declaration. Developments have left Cyprus in the air.