Writing on the wall for Turkey

There is considerable concern in European Union circles about the future of Turkey’s accession process, which is inextricably linked with a solution to the Cyprus question. Four foreign ministers, from Sweden, Italy, the UK and Finland, have promoted Turkey’s membership in The New York Times, but if they were addressing an American audience, their appeal must have fallen on deaf ears, WikiLeaks or no WikiLeaks. One of the «Four Tenors,» Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini, confessed in a recent interview that things are not going very well and spoke of «bad results.» This is a mild understatement. Because of Turkey’s adamant refusal to implement its obligation to extend the customs union to the Republic of Cyprus, eight out of the 35 negotiating chapters were frozen by the European Council in 2006. France has also blocked a further four and Cyprus six. Only one chapter has been closed and at present 13 are being negotiated. This, in effect, only leaves three to be opened. Despite efforts by the Belgian presidency to achieve some form of movement, Turkey has refused to budge and «pamper» the Greek Cypriots. Consequently, the EU’s General Affairs Council has noted «with deep regret» that Turkey continues to refuse to fulfill its obligation to implement the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement. As the GAC warned, «In the absence of progress on this issue, the Council will maintain its measures from 2006, which will have a continuous effect on the overall progress of the negotiations.» This sense of frustration is also shared by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who in his report to the Security Council in November noted that since the current round of talks between the Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot leaders began in September 2008, and after 88 meetings, progress has been«frustratingly slow.» And he concluded, «A critical window of opportunity is rapidly closing.» Bone of contention However, Ban identified that of the six areas under discussion (governance and power-sharing, economy, EU affairs, property, territory and security and guarantees) that of property was the most complex, where the two positions are for the time being irreconcilable. This issue concerns 165,000 Greek Cypriots and 45,000 Turkish Cypriots, who after the Turkish invasion in 1974 abandoned their property in northern and southern Cyprus respectively. In northern Cyprus, according to Article 159 of the Constitution of the so-called «Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus» (unilaterally declared in 1983), this property was confiscated by the self-proclaimed Turkish enclave, whereas in the south, Turkish-Cypriot property has been held in trust until a comprehensive solution has been reached. Following a number of successful applications to the European Court of Human Rights, where Turkey was held responsible for depriving Greek-Cypriot citizens of their property, in 2005 the Turkish-Cypriot authorities established an Immovable Property Commission to deal with Greek-Cypriot property claims, and in March last year the ECHR ruled that the IPC constituted an effective domestic remedy. However, the court maintained that its decision did not amount to «an indirect legitimization of a regime unlawful under international law.» By the beginning of December, the IPC had received 785 applications, 134 of which have been resolved, in most cases through compensation, although restitution and exchange are possible alternatives. But one of the agreed UN parameters for an overall solution, bizonality, will in practice limit the number of Greek Cypriots who will be able to return to their property, as this would dilute the Turkish-Cypriot majority in their zone. The bone of contention is the Greek-Cypriots’ insistence that they are the legal owners who should be able to choose between restitution, exchange or compensation, whereas the Turkish-Cypriot side insists on the rights of the present occupiers. The International Crisis Group, in a report on the issue, declares that new ideas are urgently needed, but the report itself may provide an answer. According to a recent survey, 73 percent of the Greek Cypriots polled said they would definitely or probably not return if they were to come under Turkish-Cypriot administration and, similarly, only 24 percent of Turkish Cypriots said they would return to their property if it were under Greek-Cypriot administration. It could be that a pragmatic solution lies within this margin, which links with the provision in the Annan Plan that a maximum of one-third of the residents in a Turkish-Cypriot constituent state should be non-mother tongue Turkish speakers. Separate states The Greek-Cypriot leader, Dimitris Christofias, has put forward a set of proposals, which includes linkage of the property issue with that of territory, the return of Famagusta under UN and EU control, and finally an international summit to deal with security and guarantees. The International Crisis Group has, in fact, in its report confirmed that a solution to the territorial question will facilitate a return of Greek Cypriots to the vacated areas. The next summit between the two community leaders is planned to take place in Geneva on January 26, and the outcome of this meeting will, as the UN secretary-general put it, «help the United Nations determine its own next steps.» The Security Council has once again – against Turkey’s opposition – renewed UNFICYP (United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus)’s mandate in Cyprus for a further six months. UNFICYP has now been in Cyprus since March 1964. However, it is not only the peace and security of Cyprus that is at stake. NATO’s Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen has also expressed considerable frustration at the standoff between Cyprus and Turkey, which prevents Turkey’s integration into the European Defense Agency and cooperation between all EU member states and NATO. The agreed UN parameters for a solution include the creation of a federal state with a single sovereignty and international personality, but nevertheless Turkey continues to insist on the creation of two separate states. As Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s chief EU negotiator, continues to point out, «Every morning when the sun rises, it rises over two separate states.» And in 2007 Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul spoke of «two realities on Cyprus, two democracies, two states, two languages and two religions.» If this is the case, Turkey has not only demolished the prospect of reunification but also its argument for EU membership. * Robert Ellis is a regular commentator on Turkish affairs and adviser to the Turkey Assessment Group in the European Parliament.