Turkey’s new page with the EU and Cyprus

Turkey’s new page with the EU and Cyprus

“Turkey’s foremost priority, as a European country, is to continue its relations with the EU, being well aware that it is a great European state. Turkey will find its place in that world.” 

These words were uttered by a high level official in Ankara who I had a conversation with last week.

But why now? Where did this EU perspective all of a sudden come from, especially amidst allegations that Turkey will intervene into Syria?

First of all, Europe is in a deep crisis. This is first and foremost an identity crisis, since the EU’s institutions and the values it was built upon are severely criticized these days. 

It is also an economic crisis. And Greece’s current financial situation only deepens Europe’s longstanding economic hardship.

Hence Ankara is well aware that Europe needs her for its economic dynamism and young population. The official underlined that Turkey provides the biggest potential to Europe to solve its structural problems.

The increasing xenophobia in the West is another factor. The official stated that Turkey’s membership is the antidote to this spreading trend and serves as a litmus test for Europe in this sense.

He also underlined the importance of the positive message Turkey’s inclusion would give to the region. 

Of course Turkey also needs Europe. First of all, the only way for Ankara to deal with its tough environment goes through a strong relationship with Europe. In addition, this is the only way to compensate the political and economic relations Turkey recently lost in the region.

So, all these motivations are making Ankara prioritize the EU perspective at the moment. This, in turn, brings the Cyprus issue to the front.

The official stated that Ankara has recently made a serious effort on Cyprus, which has been one of the major impediments in the accession process. 

According to him, the target of both sides is to finalize the ongoing negotiations by the end of this year, signaling that a referendum might be held in the early months of 2016.

Yet the EU is not the only reason behind the will for a solution. Energy is another factor. In other words: The gas and oil reserves which were recently discovered in the waters off Cyprus and Israel. 

And the only viable option to export that gas is transporting it to Europe via an underwater gas pipeline through Turkey, which requires a compromise between Turkey, Cyprus and Israel. It is this energy potential which has increased the will for a solution on the two sides on the island, Turkey, Greece and the West. 

This energy potential also creates an impetus for normalization between Turkey and Israel. It was recently reported that a high level official from Ankara met his Israeli counterpart in Rome. Sources in Ankara said that the request for this meeting came from Tel Aviv and signaled that the process would continue. Hence, some mobility is expected on that front too.

The economic crisis is another factor. The Greece bailout directly affects Greek Cypriots, which strengthens their will for a solution.

The international community also enhances the chances. The U.S.’ involvement in the issue is at its highest level ever. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to the island in June 2014 marked the first at this level since 1962.

The international context is also pro-solution. In the aftermath of the Ukraine crisis, the supply of Russian gas has become risky for the West, which has shifted its attention to the eastern Mediterranean area. 

A solution will also directly affect Turkey-Greece relations. The official said Ankara and Athens have agreed on a draft on the Aegean dispute which had been laid aside due to the instability in Greece. Yet, he added that a solution in Cyprus will certainly accelerate this process.

The unprecedented reconciliatory attitude of the two leaders on the island is also raising hopes. 

Last but not least: The new page in Turkey’s domestic politics seems to be opening up a new phase in its external politics too. This new impetus creates an opportunity to solve longstanding conflicts, including Cyprus.

Apparently politicians are well aware of this.