Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The EU Parliament: "Missing the Confederate Cyprus Train"

The Turkish government responded strongly last Wednesday to the European Parliament (EP)'s resolution on the European Commission's 2009 Progress Report, namely its call for Turkey to ratify the Addition Protocol of its association agreement with the European Union, remove its troops from Northern Cyprus, and return a section of Maras (Varosha) in the Cypriot town of Famagusta, which is currenty sealed off and occupied by the Turkish military. The resolution states that the EP
Deplores the fact that, for the fourth consecutive year, the Additional Protocol to the EC-Turkey Association Agreement has not been implemented by Turkey; calls on the Turkish Government to implement it fully without delay, in a non-discriminatory way, and recalls that failure to do so may further seriously affect the negotiating process;

36. Reiterates Turkey's unequivocal obligation to maintain good-neighbourly relations as provided for by the negotiating framework; underlines its undertaking together with all other parties to support the efforts to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem and to resolve any outstanding border disputes with neighbouring countries in conformity with the principle of peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with the United Nations Charter;

37. Calls on the Turkish Government and all parties concerned actively to support the ongoing negotiations, and to contribute in concrete terms to the comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue, based on a bizonal, bicommunal federation, in line with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and the principles on which the EU is founded; calls on Turkey to facilitate a suitable climate for negotiations by immediately starting to withdraw its forces from Cyprus, by addressing the issue of the settlement of Turkish citizens on the island and also by enabling the return of the sealed-off section of Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants in compliance with Resolution 550(1984) of the United Nations Security Council; . . .
Dutch MP Ria Oomen-Ruijten prepared the report, which was adopted by the EP's Foreign Affairs Committee by a vote of 65 for and 4 against, with 1 absention (EP press release). The resolution also called on Turkey to adopt numerous other measures also called for in the Progress Report, including a new constitution and political parties law, more rights for Kurds and religious minorities, and more work on the freedom of expression front, which the EP recognized as not being in compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights. Yet, the real sticking point for the Turkish government is its strong words on Cyprus, which Ankara does not recognize to be rightfully part of the negotiation process.

Ankara's reaction was as could be expected. Prime Minister Erdogan denounced the report as biased, while Chief EU Negotiator Egeman Bagis said the report must not be taken seriously.

To some extent, the Cyprus dispute is linked to two competing narratives of what happened when the European Council agreed to start negotiations with Turkey at the European Council Summit in December 2004. Turkey claims it agreed to open its ports to Cyprus on the condition that the isolation of northern Cyprus be brought to an end. However, according to the EU, Turkey agreed to recognize all EU member states, including Cyprus, by signing the Additional Protocol to its EU Association Agreement. Turkey did sign the Association Agreement in 2005, but attached an explicit reservation to its signature asserting that its signature did not de facto mean it recognized Cyprus. The Additional Protocol has never been brought to parliament for ratification. Turkey's current position on Cyprus is that all embargoes be lifted simultaneously. Furthermore, Ankara asserts that since Greek Cypriot membership was not conditional on resolution of the Cyprus conflict, nor should the conflict be a factor in Turkey's accession process (see Bagis' interview with EurActiv.)

The Cyprus-Turkey-EU dilemma began in 1995 when Greece allowed Turkey to enter the Customs Union in exchange for Cyprus' EU candidature. In 1997, the EU and Cyprus concluded an association agreement that led to Cyprus' EU membership in 2004, though Cyprus had just rejected the UN-sponsored Annan Plan. In a referendum, 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots approved the UN-proposed solution. However, 76 percent of Greek Cypriots rejected the plan. The Greek Cypriot rejection of the Annan Plan did not hinder their entry into the EU despite a promise made in 1999 at the Helsinki Summit that Greek Cypriots would not stand in the way of a solution; instead, the Greek Cypriots entered the EU as representatives of the whole of Cyprus.

There is plenty of reason for Turkey to be frustrated with the EU's handling of the Cyprus conflict. With accession only a month away, Greek Cypriots had little reason to endorse the Annan Plan. Some European politicians did cry fowl, notably EU Enlargement Commissioner at the time Maxime Verheugen and External Affairs Commissioner Christopher Patten. Cyprus has since made the EU's relationship with Turkey difficult, as well as efforts to resolve its conflict with Turkish Cypriots in the north. Though the EU might well have made promises to end the north's isolation, Cyprus has blocked efforts to do so. Turkish Cypriots remain unable to directly trade with the EU and financial assistance has been hampered by Greek Cypriot intransigence. Additionally, despite ongoing negotiations, Cyprus continues to explore for oil in contested waters off its coast, which resulted in some serious naval showdowns with the Turkish Navy in November 2008. Since Cyprus has become a member, and having given up much of its leverage, the EU has done little to involve itself in reconciliation efforts. Instead, EU politicians opposed to Turkish membership have come to use Cyprus as an excuse to encumber the accession process while exerting little pressure on Cyprus now that it has full membership status. The Turks are, understandably, frustrated, and with now upwards of 23 chapters of the EU acquis blocked due to the Cyprus issue, Turkish accession is in jeopardy, as is the reform and external/internal security it helped bring about. The good news is that the European Summit in December took no action against Turkey on Cyprus, though it continues to be an albatross around the neck of the accession process, providing ample political fodder for EU opposition to Turkish membership and vice-versa. Additionally, as the International Crisis Group's Hugh Pope points out, as long as the question of Greek propeties in northern Cyprus remains unresolved, Turkey will continue to face costly verdicts at the European Court of Human Rights that not only imperil its future in the European Union, but also in the Council of Europe.

If Europe is serious about Turkish membership and a united Cyprus, lecturing Turkey without acknowledging past mistakes or the history of the conflict is not helpful. Pro-EU/reform columnist Mehmet Ali Birand on just why the current policy is unlikely to yield results:
The EU misses the confederate Cyprus train. The link has reversed. The EU does not notice but a new world is being established and Turkey is taking its place.

There is one other fact of which Europe is not aware. And that is that old balances no longer exist. Old connections, old accounts no longer exist in the heads of those who lead Turkey.

What I'm trying to say is very simple. Until now Western capitals and media established a connection between a solution in Cyprus and Turkey's membership of the EU. For years there was an equation established stating, 'Do this and that so we will give you what you want in the EU'.

In 1995 it was agreed with Greek Cypriots to start full membership negotiations in exchange for accepting Turkey into the customs union. And in 2004 in exchange for the acceptance of the Annan Plan, Turkey obtained candidacy status and negotiations started.

Do you know when this connection failed? It was when Turkey broke a huge taboo by accepting the Annan Plan whereas the Greek Cypriots denied and still received full membership. The Greek Cypriots were given the key to the door that leads to Turkey's full membership.

Europe played its cards boorishly. Thus the EU-Cyprus connection broke. The EU's former evasiveness no longer exists. In the Economist magazine dated 12 December, there was still a broad analysis trying to get a message across that implies, 'Turkey gets stuck in respect of the EU. In order to get out it needs to take steps toward a solution. Ankara needs to take action.'

How delusive an attitude. The magazine is probably not aware of the fact that the balance and certain things in Turkey have changed.

If European capital cities too think that way, I must say they are making a big mistake. The EU is no longer a matter that causes Turkey to make important sacrifices.

Turkey quickly changes. Europe is probably not aware that it is not only losing Turkey but also the possibility of creating a united Cyprus. The European Union for Turkey is no longer a piece of carrot worth catching.

I'd like to draw attention to the fact that this connection has been reversed. If Europe still targets or dreams about a united Cyprus and wants to prevent a split never to unite again, then it needs to change its attitude toward Turkey.

In order not to lose a united Cyprus, Europe needs to work up an appetite and prepare carrots to spurn the excitement for Turkey. Now the world is changing and Turkey will find its place in this newly established world."
While Bagis' statements that Turkey should ignore what the EU says are also not necesarily helpful to the accession process other than helping to keep Turkish hopes up, neither are ignoring where they are coming from -- and, yes, they too should be taken seriously. For Turkey's part, it should focus on the work ahead, taking positive steps to enact reforms requisite to accession while keeping the EU parliament resolution in perspective. Cyprus is indubitably a large impediment to the accession process, but a final decision on Turkey -- and in Turkey, on Europe -- is still a long ways ahead.

For more on the ongoing negotiations in Cyprus ahead of April elections, see analysis from Didem Aykel with the International Crisis Group. See also EurActiv's timeline and summary of Cyprus-EU-Turkey affairs.

UPDATE I (2/25) -- Today's Zaman reports that the EU Parliament's Turkey Rapporetuer Ria Oomen-Ruitjen said the resolution on Turkey was stronger this year due to changes in the European Parliament's composition after elections this summer.
Commenting on notes concerning Cyprus included in the EP's latest report on Turkey, Oomen-Ruijten said the parliament had similar demands from Turkey before.

Due to the "new balances formed in the European Parliament after the last elections," no amendments could have been made to the Cyprus paragraph of the report as Turkey expected, Oomen-Ruijten stated.

On Feb. 10, European lawmakers endorsed a resolution that called on Turkey to withdraw its troops from Cyprus, to resolve the issue of Turkish citizens settled on the island and to allow Greek Cypriot access to the Maraş region.

With a motion adopted in the general assembly afterwards, this call on Turkey to seek its active support for comprehensive peace talks on the island was expanded to include all relevant parties.
Negotiations between Talat and Demetrios re-commenced yesterday.

1 comment:

Paul T. Levin said...

I'd be interested to read an update on the issue. I link to your post in my recent take: