Strategy International, February 8, 2011

Turkey’s path to an EU membership is a story that goes back to 1959 when it first requested its association to the Commons market, obtained only in 1963. Since then, many ups and downs followed that led to the last decade’s stalemate. Turkey decided to change the game and bargain harder. Everybody knows how good Turks are when it comes to bargaining. But it is time that Europe realizes that when a merchant shouts that he will soon be out of stock he only intends to sell more. EU member states should set their own rules instead of struggling to play Turkey’s game. A few years ago Greece vetoed Turkey’s accession to the EU. Turkish officials, including the former Minister of Foreign Affairs Yasar Yakis MP, continue to argue that all Europe wants Turkey in the Union and that the Greeks are the problem. To support this, Mr. Yakis has argued that Jacques Chirac has said in the past that “the EU, as a free trade union, could survive without Turkey, but if it wanted to perform a global responsibility it had to work together with Turkey”[1].

This only confuses whoever is listening. Mr. Chirac expressed the views of almost every European that cooperation with Turkey is essential, however, this does not necessarily mean full membership and more importantly accession without meeting the requirements set by the Union. One should not forget that Mr. Chirac wanted also to please Mr. Mustafa Bullent Ecevit, who has been his friend since their University years. But after 1999, when Greece eventually stopped vetoing Turkey’s membership, France’s official position changed considerably. In 2004, it was Chirac who stated that:

Three conditions should be met before EU membership talks with Turkey can begin: a. it must be clear that negotiations could end with much less than full EU membership, b. the French people have the ultimate right to reject Turkish membership in a referendum, and c. talks to start in 2005.

But it was not only France that raised doubts on Turkey’s prospect of entering the EU. Angela Merkel expressed the will of the majority of the Germans when she appeared very skeptical on this possibility. After Cyprus joined the EU, veto came forth once more and Turkey’s accession reached a stalemate again. Turkey goes to great lengths to argue that a small state of several thousand people defies the will of the entire Europe, which wishes to include Turkey in the EU family. This misperception is encouraged by Turkish officials, including Mr. Yakis. The truth however, which is pretty obvious to whoever wants to see it, is that Europe hides behind Cyprus’ veto as it did when Greece opposed Turkey’s membership. It is very likely that a shift in French and German politics will be observed, which will not signal a shift in EU population feelings, but will only put a veil over the great divisions that exist in Europe when it comes to its eastern enlargement.

Turkey needs to be clear as to what it seeks. Sooner or later it will stand before the big question: West or East? Turkey is already a full member of the Islamic Conference Organization in the East and the NATO in the West. Is it in its best interests to be a full member of the EU as well? Many people argue that it is. So, instead of accusing European states of pushing them away, Turkey needs to examine the reasons why this happens and adopt policies that can bring the country closer to its European allies rather than hold them back. Maybe the requirements that EU states ask to be met by Ankara are justified.

Mr. Yakis has more or less supported in the past that Turkey should become a full member without necessarily meeting all the requirements. It is a well-known fact that, in a lot of cases, states entered the Union as a result of a political decision. This by no means implies that the requirements are there just to put gloss on the treaties! Turkey cannot possibly demand to be part of the EU without meeting those requirements, especially when it comes to corruption, the judicial system, the role of the army, human rights (minorities, fundamental liberties), and there is still a way to go in economy issues, since even though Turkey’s GDP rises, the gap between the poor and the rich gets even bigger. The government has, however, taken major steps especially in the last decade and everyone acknowledges that efforts to reform the country were made and still are so. But the problems are numerous, and thus these efforts, even if hard, are not yet enough.

Turkey should try and make more compromises because after all Germany, France, and Cyprus are already EU members and Turkey is the nation seeking to be included. The current Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr. Ahmet Davutoglu argued two months ago that the EU needs Turkey and not the other way around. This, however, is not quite the case. Both the EU and Turkey benefit in economic terms by the Customs Union. The cooperation in energy is fulfilled through this agreement and it can be further enhanced as it is going to be in the best interest of both parties; however full membership is not required for this. Therefore, the EU does not “need” Turkey in that sense, as it is often supported by Turkish officials. The EU is not in a rush to include Turkey in all its institutions. It is Turkey that needs not to be left behind.

Turkey has recently requested more than it can get. This, of course, is understood to be the policy that Turkey has also adopted in the Greek-Turkish disputes very successfully so far. That is requesting as much as possible so that there are at least some gains. For the last few years, the EU has been asking Turkey to allow Greek Cypriot (EU) ships reach their harbors and airports. Turkey, of course, claims something in return: the recognition of a Northern Cyprus state by the Greek Cypriots.

Before continuing, it is of great importance to provide a very brief summary of how things got where they are now; Cyprus did not manage to get liberated from the Ottoman Empire after the Greek liberation revolt in 1821, and went under British control. In 1960 the independent Republic of Cyprus was established. The British influence remained strong in the island during the time when Greece and Cyprus were trying to find a way to unite. This was very difficult especially after 1967 when a coup controlled by the USA took over Greece, while the Cypriot leader, Archbishop Makarios, wanted autonomy at the time. Moreover, there was a Turkish minority of about 18% in the island and there were a lot of violent confrontations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. As early as September 1955 the UK directly involved Turkey in a three-part Conference, which took place in London, concerning the future of the island. Whether this was wise, is not within the scope of this paper to discuss.

According to the resulting Treaty, ,, Athens and Ankara had the right to intervene if there was destabilization in the island to protect either Greeks or Turks respectively. Turkey tried to invade in 1963 and in 1964 unsuccessfully, after the American President, Lyndon Johnson, blocked their initiatives. But in 1974, Turkey found an excellent opportunity: the Greek coup established a coup in Cyprus giving Turkey the chance to invade -twice- based on the aforementioned trilateral agreement. The Treaty referred to stipulated “steps or necessary means” to maintain order and did not justify military operations under any circumstances. At this time, the US President Nixon was weak after the Watergate Scandal, and Henry Kissinger dealt with the situation. But instead of just overthrowing the coup and leaving, and since the international community did not take immediate steps to subdue the situation, the Turks remained in the Northern part of the island, dividing the country de facto and establishing an independent state a few months later, which nobody has recognised since.

Even on the 10th of January 2011 the Minister of Internal Affairs and current negotiator with the EU, Mr Egmen Bayis, argued that the military is there to safeguard the Turkish citizens of Northern Cyprus, which is dubious since in the last 40 years, neither the Greeks or the Greek Cypriots has shown any intention to invade militarily and regain territories; that would be absurd. To date, a lot of efforts have been made to resolve the situation but they were unsuccessful because no side is willing to abandon its national interest in the region. Even when Turkey decided to approve the controversial Kofi Annan Plan, they did so because in part they knew that Cypriots would never have accepted it. Of course, now they claim that they were much more conciliatory than the Greeks, and are trying to show that the latter are those who do not want a solution. It is worth mentioning here that the current Minister of Foreign Affairs Mr Ahmet Davutoglu wrote in his recent book “The Strategic Depth” -which should be translated in English promptly- that “even if there was not even one Muslim Turk there [Cyprus], Turkey would have to maintain a Cyprus Issue. No country can stay indifferent to such an island, placed at the heart of its vital space”.

Of course, all these are not to say that Turkey alone needs to try harder. The EU also has to make adequate efforts. Turkey indeed does a lot to promote democratic institutions and create solid human rights principles. At the same time the government managed to raise the GDP, tackle unemployment, and by 2012 the Turkish government estimates that it will not be under IMF control anymore. However, social inequalities remain critical. EU members should work to take Turkey to the next level by providing twining and institution-building programmes. It is in the best interests of the EU to have a solid democratic state, one that respects human rights and the western values in its southeastern borders. The EU made promises to Turkey after the “Berlin-Plus” arrangements that have not been fulfilled yet; one of the three commitments the EU made to Turkey was to provide consultations during peace time. Turkey argues that they requested such consultations twice (concerning Iraq and Georgia) but received no response. The other commitments were Turkey’s membership in the European Defence Agency and the signing of an agreement for an exchange between Turkey and the EU of classified information which, as Turkey assumes, would pave the way for Turkish participation in the planning of the ESDP (now CSDP) with the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty[2]. The EU’s reply to the above is that Ankara would have to recognize that all EU members participate in the EU-NATO cooperation, Cyprus included. So the essence of the deadlock can be summarized in the following: “Greek Cyprus, representing the entire island as a full member of the EU, blocks Turkish participation in European defence institutions, such as the European Defense Agency (EDA). Turkey, a NATO member, responds by obstructing the Greek Cypriot government’s use of NATO facilities and NATO cooperation with Greek Cyprus on defence and security issues”[3].

On top of this, Turkey, in order to allow Cypriots to access Turkish harbors and airports, ask for the embargo to Northern Cyprus to stop. They are requesting de facto recognition of the state that Turkey created in 1974. The International Community does not recognize Northern Cyprus as a state, so expecting Greek Cypriots to do so, shows either unwillingness to find a solution or stupidity; and Turks are very smart. Davutoglu said recently that Turkey will not compromise on the Cyprus Issue for the sole purpose of entering the EU. This is a statement that aims to challenge the EU states to adopt harsh policies towards Cyprus.

But the question is: does the EU “buy it”? Is it willing to compromise with such illegitimate action against all international laws and pressure for de facto recognition of Northern Cyprus? Moreover, the solution that is mostly supported is a unification of the island under some kind of federation. Therefore, there is no need to recognize a state that will be incorporated into a unified Cyprus. If Turkey wants to get something in return for allowing Greek Cypriots to enter its harbors and airplanes, it could not be something utopian. In essence, the EU and Turkey should both work hard in order to tighten their cooperation and overcome the stalemate Turkey’s membership has reached. But, compromise needs to come from both sides and rhetoric, arrogance, and egos should be left aside for the common interest.



[3] Ibid