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Turkey Can Stop Off in Cyprus En Route to the EU

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Reunification before the island joins the EU on May 1st is possible. Will the ‘Islamists’ in power in Ankara be able to hold off the generals and allow Cyprus’ entry to become a step on the road to Turkish membership?

1995: the Cypriot entry bid is accepted by the EU, which softens the blow for Ankara by agreeing to a customs union with Turkey. This is seen as the first step towards accession.

The resolution of the Cyprus conflict and Turkey’s accession to the EU are now inextricably intertwined. But both sides are adamant that each issue should be dealt with separately. This remains the case until November 2003 when Brussels at long last acknowledges that a continuation of the status quo on the island would constitute a substantial obstacle to Turkey’s future accession to the Union.

The European tactic, as elaborated by skilled Greek diplomats, consists of two parts:

- Force Turkey into making concessions in order to find a solution through the application of constantly growing pressure: from the acceptation of the Cypriot bid (1995) to the acknowledgement of the Greek community as the only legitimate entity at the time of accession to the EU (2004) – for how can Ankara presume to enter a political structure of which it fails to acknowledge all existing members? – along with the promise of some $20 billion in compensation in case things don’t work out.

- Maintain the status quo by adopting an asymmetric approach to the parties involved. Rauf Denktas, the Turkish Cypriot leader, and his supporters in Turkish military and conservative circles find the current situation -whereby only the Greek Cypriot authority is recognized as legitimate- unacceptable. For them, this would effectively mean that Turkish Cypriots would once again be subject to Greek sovereignty.

In this way, the Greek side can rest assured that their support of any proposal emanating from Brussels will be matched with rejection on the Turkish side, whose diplomatic efforts have long been concentrated on justifying the 1974 invasion.

Greek diplomacy caught by surprise

That is, until Ankara started to look to the future, rather than remaining stuck 30 years in the past. The change in attitude was prompted by two different considerations:

- To start with, the upcoming decision on whether Turkey should be allowed into the EU or not: following two years of far-reaching reforms, Turkey is mindful of the fact that its European ambitions will be on the line this December when the EU decides whether or not to open membership negotiations.

-Secondly, the initial effects of the reforms Turkey has embarked upon in order to curb the power of the General Staff: the National Security Council (MGK), which used to be the highest executive authority in the country and which is composed of army chiefs and the main government ministers, now only meets twice a month. On Cyprus, the last meeting of the MGK (23 January) was simply a means to formalise the positions already decided upon between the diplomats and the General Staff, headed by General Özkök, a very moderate man. « The MGK is not an executive authority », declared deputy Prime Minister Gül, whose own party was banished from power in 1997 by the National Security Council. The Greek diplomats themselves had not banked on such a revolutionary change.

- Finally, the historic victory of the Turkish Left in Cyprus’ legislative elections last December and the creation of a coalition dedicated to finding a way out of the deadlock by May 2004 are chipping away at the foundations of the current status quo. Rauf Denktas himself acknowledged this fact the day after the vote.

A ‘reduced’ referendum

Since the beginning of 2004, Ankara has gone on the offensive and brought the situation under its control. Its recent reforms were favourably received by Kofi Annan and the Bush administration, and managed to take the Greeks by surprise.

Ankara has declared its wish to reopen negotiations a soon as possible by articulating a series of proposals:

- To accept Kofi Annan’s draconian conditions (including a deadline for a referendum and allowing the UN to draw up the controversial clauses of the agreement) in order to force the Greeks to honour their side of the bargain or see their representative character on the island questioned (here it is important to remember that the representative character of the Greek side has for a long time been justified by its presumed good intentions).

- To move towards a rapid solution to the conflict before May 1 2004 which would also guarantee the rights of Turkish Cypriots. This would involve accepting a ‘reduced’ referendum, which would simply outline general principles and would remain negotiable during the remaining months. The detail would be left to subsequent negotiations under supervision of the UN.

- To attempt to combine the solution to the conflict with the accession issue by leaving negotiations and a detailed application of the peace plan until after May 1, i.e. until the (long) run-up to Turkish accession.

These proposals have so far drawn a blank with Athens, currently in the grip of an electoral campaign, and Nicosia, distracted by its upcoming accession to the EU.

The role of the EU

It remains to be seen how the EU will choose to approach the Cyprus issue. So far the silence has been deafening. But wherever America’s or the UN’s loyalties lie, the real power lies with Brussels.

Brussels could choose to use her influence in several different ways: on the one hand by accepting the good faith of the Turkish proposals and by drawing up a tight schedule for negotiations in order to reach an agreement on principles by May 1. This agreement could be guaranteed by a promise to open membership negotiations with Turkey.

On the other hand, the Europeans could resort to the tried and tested policy of laissez faire, laissez aller and effectively scupper the negotiation of an agreement by May. This would only serve to delay the prospect of a solution to the conflict and make Turk-Cypriot and Turk-European relations more complicated. For, as Murat Yetkin, writing for the daily Radikal (6/11/03) put it, « a solution in Cyprus is only to be envisaged in terms of two separate equations (EU/Turkey), two parameters (Cyprus/membership negotiations)».

But is the EU ready to formulate its own equation?

Translated from Epreuve du feu pour la diplomatie turque