Can Cyprus solve the Turkey-EU deadlock?

Can Cyprus solve the Turkey-EU deadlock?

It would be nice to answer this question with a clear “yes.” Unfortunately the “with or without you” kind of relationship between the European Union and Turkey is much too complicated to have such clear answers.

The foreign policy dimension of that complex relationship with a strong Syria and Arab Spring accent was discussed in an EU-Turkey Conference of Journalists event, which started in Istanbul on March 11 and to be continued in Turkey’s Syrian border town of Hatay the next day. The journalists are expected to explore opportunities in Turkish-EU cooperation in the region.

The conference is an act of good will, in fact, in order to create awareness in both the European and Turkish public. Yet after 20 years, even such public diplomacy efforts turn into formalities, journalists grew older, some passed away, like late Mehmet Ali Birand, who had written so much about Turkey’s membership to the EU.

This year is the 50th year of Turkey’s signing an accession agreement with the Union, then with six members only. Now it has 27 members and is not only in “enlargement fatigue” but also “integration fatigue,” as described in a note delivered to participants by the EU delegation in Turkey, the organizer of the meeting. According to this note, there are “tensions” between some members and EU institutions, as the economic crisis demonstrated, which signals that despite all the lip service paid by some European leaders, there is lack of perspective in Brussels to enlist Ankara among member capitals.

Jean-Maurice Ripert, the Head of the EU Delegation in Ankara, mentioned the Turkish government initiative to find a political solution to the Kurdish problem and the election of Nicos Anastasiades as the Greek Cypriot president as two sources of hope for the bettering of relations with Turkey. However, Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Naci Koru responded that in order to avoid the further “disengagement” of Turkish people from any future in between, the EU should take some steps immediately. “We hope,” Koru said, “that France can lift blockage on four other chapters of membership negotiations.”

France, following François Hollande’s election as the new president, decided to let one of five chapters that it had blocked under Nicholas Sarkozy, who had found a perfect couple in Germany’s Angela Merkel, also an opponent of Turkey’s full membership.

Eight of those chapters are blocked by the Greek Cypriot government, which was taken as a member right after rejecting a UN plan for reunification with Turkish Cypriots allowing them their own state in the north of the Mediterranean island in a referendum in 2004. Anastasiades was the only Cypriot leader in the South who campaigned for a reunification, which is why Ripert thinks there is a chance now.

The Turkish government has promised – and recently repeated through Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s EU Minister – that if any EU country will break the embargo on Turkish Cypriots, as promised before the 2004 referendum, then Turkey will open its ports and airspace to Greek Cypriot vessels, which is the apparent reason behind blocking membership negotiations.

Most Turks (some 70 percent, despite being 30 percent in 2004) find this unacceptable and an act of hypocrisy and hubris. Plus, except for the political tension with the EU, Turkey did not suffer much from the embargo by Greek Cypriots, while the Greek Cypriot economy is about go bankrupt despite all that German, Swedish and Dutch taxpayers’ money pumped into their banks. The Turkish economy is floating with the EU as the biggest trade partner, and Turkish politicians seemed to have hurt some European hearts when they mentioned this while congratulating the EU on its 2012 Nobel Peace Prize. Otherwise, it wouldn’t have been mentioned in the conference information note on March 11 as an “unfortunately hubristic” move.

In sum, if Anastasiades or Bağış or anyone could have a magic stick that solves the Cyprus issue with Turkey, there would be actors to stop that, who would think that they would lose a great wall to hide behind. Yes, the solution to the Cyprus problem is a must in Turkey’s relations with EU, but no, it is not the only one.