Wrangling over Cyprus marshistoric EU Turkey deal
17 December 2004
BRUSSELS – The European Union’s breakthrough invitation to Turkey for the start of historic membership negotiations – a goal sought by Ankara for over 40 years – came only after last minute wrangles over Cyprus almost scuppered the accord.
The deal to open talks with Muslim Turkey is a major turning point for European Union, which until now has been a mainly Christian club.
For Turkey the move is a landmark recognition of a decades old drive to be seen as a European nation.
But celebrations after a two-day summit in Brussels were marred by an unseemly, eleventh-hour battle over EU demands that Turkey give fast-track recognition to Cyprus via the signing of a customs union deal.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected this and instead forced a compromise under which he verbally pledged to sign the agreement by the 3 October, 2005 start for accession talks, diplomats said. EU leaders welcomed Turkey’s declaration.
The skirmish was a less than auspicious start for what were always going to be tough negotiations to bring Turkey – with its far poorer much more rural population – into the EU.
Even pro-Turkey leaders such as German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder say negotiations with Ankara may drag out until 2019.
The squabbles at the Brussels summit once again reflected the EU’s complex decision-making machinery where one member state – in this case tiny Cyprus – can make nationally driven demands.
Although it had never previously been a condition for starting talks with Turkey, Cyprus, which only joined the EU last May, swiftly objected to the fact that Turkey refuses to grant it diplomatic recognition.
Turkey, until now, has only recognised the self-styled state of Turkish northern Cyprus.
This led to hours of shuttle diplomacy at the summit with Turkey supporters Germany and Britain being called in to mediate.
Erdogan dug in his heels due to fears that voters at home and the ever-sensitive Turkish parliament would rebel if he was seen to be caving in on the spot to last-minute EU demands.
Turkey has been knocking at Europe’s door since 1963 and the goal of EU membership has spurred unprecedented reforms under Erdogan which have won wide admiration in the EU.
For Europe, taking in Turkey makes sense for a host of economic and geo-political reasons.
EU leaders such as Chancellor Schroeder point equally to the huge market provided by Turkey’s booming economy and population of 70 million as well as the security advantage of making Turkey a democratic, secular beacon for the Islamic world.
Taking in Turkey will also boost the morale of the 15 million Muslims already living in the EU who still face tough integration challenges.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair has long seen enlargement of the EU as a way both to weaken the Franco-German dominance of the bloc and to boost transatlantic ties. The US has long been a strong backer of Turkish EU membership.
Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende – who holds the rotating EU presidency – said the goal of negotiations beginning next year was full accession of Turkey but cautioned: “We’re going to negotiate to see if membership is possible. There’s no guarantee it is possible.”
Should negotiations fail, he said, Turkey must remain firmly anchored in EU structures. This, however, is not the same thing as the offer second class membership – dubbed a “privileged partnership” – which was rejected by EU leaders.
Despite Friday’s EU deal with Turkey, Ankara’s path to membership will be difficult.
Turkey faces a huge task in meeting standards of what European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso earlier stressed was a “very demanding Union.”
Erdogan’s reforms are seen by the EU as just a start and Ankara’s lengthy “to do” list includes major improvements in political and economic structures. EU leaders say Turkey must make additional effort to meet the bloc’s “Copenhagen Criteria” which include strict standards for human rights, minority protection and rule of law.
More challenging for Erodgan are Europe’s calls for what many in Turkey will see as a social revolution.
Women’s rights, religious freedom and difficult historic questions from Turkey’s past, including the fate of Armenians during World War I, still need to be addressed.
Asked about calls by France for Turkey to recognise the killing of up to 1.5 million Christian Armenians under the Ottoman Empire in 1915 as a genocide, Barroso said the question would have to be up for frank discussion.
But he underlined this should take place at a later date. Turkey rejects the label of genocide with regard to the Armenians.
Subject: German news