Untying the EU-Turkey-Cyprus triangle

Untying the EU-Turkey-Cyprus triangle

The European Parliament adopted a non-binding resolution on Nov. 24, recommending that the European Commission and member states temporarily suspend the already frozen accession negotiations with Turkey. Although any formal decision to officially cease negotiations with Turkey requires consensus at the European Council – something nobody expects at the moment – the overwhelming “yes” vote in the EP, 479 in favor to 37 against, reflects the unease toward Turkey in EU circles.

In contrast to the EP resolution, most of the member states are still in favor of the continuation of talks with Turkey, even if there are no real talks at the moment and the members are also worried about the current developments in Turkey. While it looked as if Turkey and the EU were finally making progress after a readmission deal was struck on March 18, 2016, to stem the flow of refugees through Turkey into Europe in return for visa liberalization for Turkish citizens, the horizon has been clouded again with mutual accusations of non-compliance, developments in Turkey after the July 15 coup attempt, anti-Turkish remarks from several European politicians and finally the untimely EP resolution.

While observers talked about the EU anchor for and conditionality effect on Turkey’s reform process in the aftermath of the start of the accession negotiations, those days are long gone, and the EU has lost whatever leverage it once had on Turkey. In addition to Turkey’s failures, the EU has a share of responsibility in the current state of affairs. Starting from the submission of its formal application for EU membership in 1987, Turkey has been facing biased attitudes from many members. For years, Greece and the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) have been cited as blockers and used as scapegoats for Turkey’s quest. But in fact, from the beginning, several member states, primarily Germany, France and Austria, proposed a different status for Turkey, such as privileged partnership.

The latest news coming from the Cyprus unification talks, which have again hit a deadlock, added to the already bleak atmosphere, as the EU created an impasse by accepting RoC as member in 2004, which since then has blocked most of the accession talks with Turkey. The last-minute, maximalist negotiation tactics from Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasides and the game-changing intervention from Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias to create a precondition to move into the last phase of the talks in a multilateral conference forced Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı to be tough on territorial adjustments.

As both sides have now entered threatening and harsh-talking mode, the earlier rapport between the two negotiating leaders might not be enough to create momentum again anytime soon. And the latest tension in Turkey-EU relations just adds strain to the two leaders, as Turkey does not have any incentive to ease the deadlock on account of its connection with the EU.

So far, Turkey and Turkish Cypriots have showed their willingness both in Turkey-EU relations and for an equitable solution to the long-lasting Cyprus problem on many occasions. The end result is no progress on either front and many accusations for the lack thereof. Thus, it might be the right time to start thinking of alternatives seriously to build a more sustainable relationship among the parties. Creating a new form of relationship between Turkey and the EU and changing the parameters of the Cyprus talks to include confederation and two-state solutions could be envisioned. Of course, expanding the Customs Union between Turkey and the EU and implementing the Direct Trade Regulation for Turkish Cypriots immediately might be less radical options at present.