So the long-expected upset in Turkish-European Union talks has happened. It is one that will surprise few people. Once the EU allowed the Greek Cypriots to join as the sole representatives of a divided island locked for over half a century in an international dispute – a mistake that many warned the Union against making – something like this was inevitable.
Turkey is always going to be a very important neighbour of the EU, particularly now that it is on the way to becoming a strong industrial power. It is a key to the security of the Balkans, the Black Sea (which can only be reached through Turkish waters) and the Caucasus. For 200 years, it has been refashioning itself along specifically European lines, many would say with considerable success. Yet the rest of Europe seems to be telling it that it made a mistake in doing so.
This message, rising in intensity since the 1990s, has had a powerful effect on the national mood and the political life of Turkey. Can the
Greek Cypriot tail really be wagging the EU dog? At the time of enlargement both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots did all that was asked of them. The Turkish Cypriots voted for the United Nations peace plan. The Greek Cypriots resoundingly rejected it. The Turkish Cypriots were then excluded from the EU and the Greek Cypriots given full membership and veto powers.
Despite all of that, the Commission’s decision last week to freeze eight of the 34 chapters of the negotiations until Turkey opens its harbours and airports to the Greek Cypriots is no full stop. The negotiation work has been in virtual suspense since June 12, as a result of Greek-Cypriot objections.
So, paradoxically, the Commission recommendation may get important parts of the process started again. A much larger number of chapters were frozen than Turkey expected, but we remain an accession candidate. As it happens, the eight include chapters such as the Customs Union and Free Migration of Goods, where Turkey is already in almost total compliance with the acquis communautaire – the body of EU rules and regulations – and which could be signed off quickly should the political will ever be there.
The 26 negotiation chapters not frozen are mostly ones that require real effort. It is good news that work on them continues. To hear European statesmen speaking, one would think there is no legislative and administrative reform happening. This is wrong. The EU negotiation process has a crucial role to play as a policy “anchor” in many areas, in particular helping Turkish economic strategists stick to strict disciplines rather than follow short- term political advantage.
Our industrial sector is comparable with those of the most advanced countries of the 2004 enlargement. Growth has been more than 7 per cent for the past three years. That means that we can afford to wait; more than a few economists predict that, if present growth trends continue, after 2015 EU membership might not be a pressing concern for Turkey anyway.
Can the Cyprus issue be got out of the way before then? Seen from Ankara, it looks as if the leadership in Nicosia is in no mood for a compromise and wants to subjugate its Turkish Cypriot neighbours rather than live with them on freely negotiated terms. That is unhealthy, not just for the Turkish Cypriots – EU citizens trapped in a non-EU limbo – but for the stability of the eastern Mediterranean and the troubled regions beyond it.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, has many times indicated that opening airports and harbours would be easier to do if the Turkish Cypriots were not trapped in isolation by their neighbours. EU leaders promised in 2004 after the peace plan referendum to do something about this. Now, cornered by a Greek Cypriot veto, they say it was only a “political commitment”.
I would advise them to study protocol 10 of the enlargement treaty. Its words and spirit clearly imply that all Cyprus’s people should benefit from EU membership. The EU has done almost nothing on this in 2½ years, which is why Turkish politicians refuse to endorse an accession condition that seems to them to reward the guilty by giving substantial economic advantages to the Greek Cypriots.
Meanwhile, the EU also has time to reconsider its own views of a fast-growing and dynamic society that will play a very big part in its future, whatever happens.
The writer is a former under-secretary of the Turkish minister of foreign affairs and was Turkish ambassador in London from 1995 to 2000