Juncker’s letter, Lipponen’s letter Rogers’ plan and Davutoğlu’s call
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has reportedly sent a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, promising progress in the opening of five negotiation chapters between Turkey and the EU in the first quarter of 2016. The letter implies that the Greek Cypriot government will be convinced to lift its veto on the related chapters.
As detailed in Serkan Demirtaş’s story in the Hürriyet Daily News on Dec. 6, the move is considered in Ankara to be an indication of goodwill by Juncker to secure an implementation agreement with Turkey about taking back Syrian refugees from EU countries during the European Council meeting on Dec. 17 in Brussels. But it seems that the letter will not be enough to convince Ankara to sign the deal without first having guarantees - sealed by a European Council decision - about the lifting of the Greek Cypriot veto and reactivating membership negotiations with Turkey. This is because of past bad experiences in Turkey’s relations with the EU and its Western allies.
We have to go back a few years to understand why Juncker’s important letter of intent is not enough to convince Turkey. Let’s go back to October 2005 and the Ankara headquarters of the Republican People’s Party (CHP). Back then, former CHP head Deniz Baykal was hosting a European Socialist Party (PES) delegation led by former Finnish and Greek prime ministers Paavo Lipponen and Yorgo Papandreu. The framework agreement on Turkey’s negotiations with the EU had just been signed on Oct. 3 - but it was like a cold shower for the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) government of then-Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan, because a solution to the Cyprus problem was included as a precondition for Turkey’s EU membership, (in addition to Greek Cypriot and French vetoes). That precondition was included despite the results of a U.N.-sponsored referendum on the Greek and Turkish sides of Cyprus for reunification; although the Turks approved it and the Greeks rejected the plan, Greek Cyprus was accepted as a member and an embargo continued to be applied to the Turks.
During the PES visit, Baykal reminded Lipponen of a letter he had sent (as the prime minister of EU term president Finland at the time) to former Turkish Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit on Dec. 10, 1999, right before a European meeting to convince Ankara to accept a plan that acknowledged Turkey as a membership candidate but gave no guarantees. In that letter, Lipponen assured Ecevit that a solution of the Cyprus issue would never be a precondition for Turkey’s EU membership. After hearing Lipponen’s answer that they did not say Turkey’s EU membership was guaranteed, Baykal walked out of his office and left the rest of the hosting of the delegation to his deputy.
Baykal then came out and publicly warned Erdoğan not to “fall into traps like Lipponen’s letter and the Rogers Plan.”
What was the Rogers Plan? For this, we have to go back to 1980, when General Kenan Evren led a military coup in Turkey on Sept. 12 on the grounds that the country was on the brink of collapse amid street fights and anarchy. The very first decision of the post-coup regime was a contentious step about international relations: Evren approved Greece’s return to the NATO military alliance, which it had left in 1974 over Turkey’s intervention after a right-wing Greek Cypriot coup on the island. When asked, Evren said he had got a “soldiers word” from NATO General Bernard Rogers that both Turkey and Greece would be accepted into the EU (then the European Economic Union) together. Greece was accepted in 1981, but a Turkey run by a coup-regime was naturally left out, and there was no Rogers left to ask about his “soldier’s word” as he had already retired.
This historical perspective should show that Prime Minister Davutoğlu and President Erdoğan should be more careful then ever in considering EU guarantees on Turkey’s admission as a member. Juncker’s letter may be a nice goodwill gesture, but it is not a guarantee. A guarantee would be a European Council decision on Dec. 17, and Turkey should not bind itself before seeing such a decision.