EU, Turkey on collision course

The European Parliament has with a resounding majority called on Turkey to immediately start to withdraw its troops from Cyprus and address the issue of the settlement of Turkish citizens on the island. It has also called on Turkey to enable the return of the sealed-off section of Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants. The Turkish reaction was predictable. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a lunch for EU ambassadors called the resolution «baseless and unacceptable» and his chief EU negotiator, Egemen Bagis, said Turkey shouldn’t take it seriously. According to Turkish columnist Semih Idiz, the EU has painted itself into a corner over Cyprus but the boot is on the other foot. Turkey, in holding Cyprus hostage to its own prospects for EU membership, has played for high stakes but lost. The beginning of the end was the European Council meeting in Helsinki in 1999, which, while agreeing to Turkey’s candidacy, stressed that if no Cyprus settlement had been reached by the completion of accession negotiations, the Council’s decision on accession would be made without this being a precondition. The next nail in Turkey’s coffin was its signature on the Protocol to the Ankara Agreement in July 2005, which extended the customs union to 10 new EU members, including Cyprus. Two days before, Tony Blair had assured Prime Minister Erdogan it was a «legal fact» that Turkey’s signature did not involve the recognition of Cyprus but nevertheless Turkey issued a declaration to this effect. Two months later, the EU issued a counter-declaration, reminding Ankara that its unilateral declaration «has no legal effect» on Turkey’s obligations under the Protocol and that recognition of all member states is a necessary component of the accession process. This standoff resulted in a decision by the EU Council in December 2006 not to open eight chapters of the acquis relevant to Turkey’s refusal to recognize Cyprus. In addition, Cyprus has announced it will set preconditions for opening a further five in addition to the energy chapter, which it has already blocked. France has also blocked five chapters directly related to full membership, which caused a European diplomat to lament: «There will soon be no more chapters left to open.» At the General Affairs Council meeting in Brussels last December, Britain and Sweden tried to downplay the issue and equate the Cyprus question with the border dispute between Croatia and Slovenia. When this attempt failed, Britain issued a counter-declaration two weeks later, stating that it was in the EU’s strategic interest not to let «bilateral issues» hold up the accession process. Legal facts However hard Britain tries to nod and wink at Turkey’s continued occupation of 37 percent of a sovereign European state, there are certain legal facts that cannot be ignored. The European Court of Human Rights has already established that the «Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus» is, in fact, a subordinate local administration of Turkey, and last month the British Court of Appeal confirmed the landmark legal decision by the European Court of Justice in Apostolides v. Orams. Together with several thousand other British citizens, David and Linda Orams bought land belonging to a Greek Cypriot owner, who had been dispossessed by the Turkish invasion in 1974. Although the Republic of Cyprus does not exercise effective control over the occupied areas, the judgments of its courts are still enforceable and therefore the Orams were ordered to demolish their holiday home, pay compensation to Apostolides and return his property. As the Court of Appeal noted: «Quite apart from Security Council Resolutions, the United Kingdom has an obligation under the Treaty of Guarantee to recognize and guarantee the independence, territorial integrity and security of the Republic of Cyprus.» Therefore it is a paradox that Turkey invokes this treaty to justify its presence on the island. The Turkish military has long considered Cyprus to be essential to Turkey’s security and has therefore opposed any withdrawal of its forces. In 2006, the Finnish term presidency proposed to put the «ghost town» of Varosha (suburb of Famagusta), which is guarded by Turkish soldiers, under UN supervision to enable its Greek Cypriot inhabitants to return. However in a secret letter to then Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, Deputy Chief of the General Staff Saygun Ergin warned against any form of compromise. General Saygun, who is now retired, is one of the high-ranking officers who have been detained in connection with alleged coup plans against the government. Game plan Turkey’s game plan is, and for the last 50 years has been, the establishment of an independent Turkish state in northern Cyprus, which is why confederation rather than federation is the preferred goal. Turkey’s settlement policy, which is in breach of Article 49.6 of the Geneva Convention, is a means to this end and has reduced the original Turkish Cypriots to a minority in their own community. Turkey has already posited a solution along the lines of Kosovo or Taiwan and there is talk of «a velvet divorce» a la Czechoslovakia. However, Bagis has declared Cyprus «a national cause» and that Turkey has no plan or thought to withdraw its troops. For this reason, if push comes to shove and Turkey is faced with the breakdown of membership talks, it will be interesting to see what Turkey actually decides to do. For example, Committee of the Regions (COR), an EU advisory body, plans to urge Turkey to withdraw its forces from Cyprus by the end of 2010. At the Geneva Conference in 1974, British Foreign Secretary James Callaghan warned: «Today the Republic of Cyprus is the prisoner of the Turkish army: Tomorrow the Turkish army will find itself the prisoner of the Republic of Cyprus.» With the benefit of hindsight, Jim was right. Robert Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs in Denmark and from 2005-2008 was a frequent contributor to the Turkish Daily News.

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