A very interesting analysis in Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman. A must read.
Today's Zaman [NEWS ANALYSIS] Ankara, Brussels brace for showdown over Cyprus 12 February 2011, Saturday / FATMA DEMİRELLİ, İSTANBUL
[NEWS ANALYSIS] Ankara, Brussels brace for showdown over Cyprus
12 February 2011, Saturday / FATMA DEMİRELLİ, İSTANBUL
Turkey's hardly moving European Union membership process may well come to a breaking point this year over the Cyprus dispute, according to both Turkish and European officials.
The Cyprus dispute has been inextricably linked with Turkey's EU accession bid since Greek Cyprus was admitted into the union in 2004 as a representative of the whole island. In 2006, the EU suspended accession talks on eight of 35 chapters because of Turkey's refusal to open its ports and airports to traffic from Greek Cyprus. Ankara, for its part, resents that the EU has not kept its promise to the Turkish Cypriots to allow them to trade with member states, a promise the EU made after the Turkish Cypriots approved a UN plan to reunite the island in 2004.
What is at stake is the political dialogue between Turkey and the EU at a time when Turkey is becoming an increasingly key player not only in the volatile Middle East but also in the global arena. Defense cooperation between NATO and the EU is also likely to be one of the victims of the Turkey-EU stalemate over Cyprus
The Greek Cypriots rejected the plan in a simultaneous vote and were still allowed to join the EU a few days later.
Since then, Ankara has refused to consider any revision to its policy of no access for Greek Cypriot vessels and aircraft, while the EU issued deadlines for the opening of the ports and then extended them to avoid a fatal collision. Policymakers in Ankara now expect the long-delayed crisis to hit anytime this year and are ready to face the consequences.
“A showdown is inevitable,” said one senior diplomat, speaking to a group of journalists in İstanbul this week. “We are now looking to see how this showdown will take place and what results will come out of it.”
According to the official, what is at stake is the political dialogue between Turkey and the EU at a time when Turkey is becoming an increasingly key player not only in the volatile Middle East but also in the global arena. Defense cooperation between NATO and the EU, currently blocked because Turkey blocks Greek Cypriot access to NATO and Greek Cyprus blocks Turkish access to European defense apparatus, is also likely to be one of the victims of the Turkey-EU stalemate over Cyprus.
Both outcomes are likely to hurt the EU’s aspirations to boost its global standing as an influential political actor. But in the corridors of the EU buildings in Brussels, few seem bothered. Leaving aside occasional calls for the creation of a new Turkey-EU dialogue mechanism to discuss defense issues and coordination in foreign policy -- a call readily rejected by Ankara, by the way -- European politicians are adamant not to let Turkey’s accession process proceed unless Ankara makes amends to its Cyprus policy. Whether Cyprus is the real concern or is merely an excuse, as Turkish leaders frequently say, not allowing Turkey’s accession because it is religiously different, is up for discussion. What is certain, however, is that the accession process will not be allowed to move forward unless Turkey agrees to concessions on Cyprus.
A draft European Parliament report on Turkey, approved by the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee on Thursday, said Turkey’s refusal to open its ports and airports to Greek Cyprus continues to affect the negotiation process and urged Ankara to agree to concessions to “facilitate a suitable climate for negotiations by immediately starting to withdraw its forces from Cyprus.”
Speaking to Today’s Zaman in an interview, Andrew Duff, a British member of the European Parliament, went further and said accession will no longer be a topic to discuss for the European Parliament this time next year if there is no “dramatic change” on Cyprus this year. If Turkey does not bring a solution, he said, “there is no chance of a settlement in this generation and there is no chance that Turkey can continue the formal accession process.”
“The reason why I am so outspoken on this is that I’m getting tired of pretending that everything is fine, while we all know privately that it is not,” said Duff, who has been a strong supporter of Turkish accession.
The EU’s toughening position was also apparent during a visit last month by German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Greek Cyprus, where she praised the Greek Cypriot leadership for doing its best to reach a settlement, while accusing the Turkish side of not doing enough. But Merkel’s remarks did nothing but outrage Ankara, which advised the German leader to consult with the UN first about how the reunification negotiations are going and which side is doing what to bring an agreement closer.
In Ankara this week, the ambassadors of the EU countries heard Ankara’s clear message once again, this time from Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu. In a meeting with EU countries’ ambassadors, Davutoğlu said it was unacceptable that Greek Cyprus “uses the EU” to achieve its own political goals and lamented the EU countries’ position.
And as if the situation is not hopeless enough, a dispute growing between Ankara and the Turkish Cypriots on the island is casting further shadow on hopes to find a way out of the current stalemate. Many in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) are complaining now that appointment of an economy technocrat as the new Turkish ambassador in Lefkoşa amounts to the appointment of a “governor” as in colonial times.
Ambassador Kaya Türkmen was replaced with Halil İbrahim Akça, who was responsible for monitoring Turkey’s financial aid to the KKTC, after Jan. 28 protests in the KKTC against the government’s austerity measures and Turkey created a diplomatic rift between Ankara and Lefkoşa. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan slammed the protesters, who told Ankara to “take its troops and money back,” reminding them in non-diplomatic language that they rely on Turkey for their salaries.
Turkish diplomats say they don’t want the dispute to affect the reunification talks, but it already has, according to KKTC President Derviş Eroğlu. “Such troubles are weakening my position in the negotiations,” Eroğlu said in televised remarks on Thursday, adding that Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias “joked about” the issue during their latest meeting.