New threat looms over Turkish accession

By Andrew Duff MEP
Published: May 8 2006 17:29 | Last updated: May 8 2006 17:29

A crisis is looming in Turkey's bid to join the European Union.

By the end of this year the country is obliged to extend its current
EU customs association agreement to the ten new member states,
including Cyprus, which joined in 2004.

After a lot of fuss and bother, the relevant protocol was signed just
in time to allow the formal membership negotiations to begin on
October 3 last year. But Turkey suddenly added a unilateral
declaration to the protocol denying that the extension of the customs
union implied formal Turkish recognitionof the Republic of Cyprus.

As the Turkish statement merely reiterated Ankara's long-held
position, it was deemed even by Turkey's friends to have been clumsily
provocative. The EU Council of Ministers formally rebuked the Turks,
with the result that neither the Turkish Grand National Assembly nor,
therefore, the European parliament has yet ratified the trade
agreement. Unless the Ankara Protocol is implemented in the autumn,
the Greek Cypriots will have every excuse they need to call for a
suspension of the accession process.

Such a breakdown would be a pity because, trade with Cyprus apart,
Turkey's efforts to absorb the European acquis communautaire are going
rather well.

The government has recently picked up the momentum of reform and
delivered another ambitious package of modernisation measures to the
Turkish parliament.

The economy continues to grow fast. The commitment of the government
to European integration is not flagging and in this it is still
supported by a large majority of Turkish public opinion, including the
business community, most of the media and human rights NGOs.

Even the main opposition party, the Kemalist CHP, says it supports EU
entry, despite being bitterly hostile to almost every other action of
the governing Islamic democrat party, the AKP.

The government is right to claim that Turkey's democracy is growing
stronger. The judiciary is undergoing (for it) painful reforms. Old
taboos are now the subject of daily controversy. The struggle to adapt
European norms to Turkish particularities navigates a host of tricky
issues: tension between official secularism and popular Islam, the
role of the military, the position of the Kurds, the vulnerability of
non-conformists, the future of the Christian churches, the Armenian
`genocide'. All this, too, when Turkey's eastern neighbourhood is in
chaos. As a remarkably cheerful foreign minister Abdullah Gül told
MEPs visiting Ankara last week, `democracy is all about pluralism'.

It is difficult to be optimistic about the Cyprus problem, however. Mr
Gül has offered to open all Turkish ports and airports to Greek
Cypriot carriers in exchange for a simultaneous end to the
international embargo of North Cyprus. This is rejected outright by
Greek Cypriot president Tassos Papadopoulos, currently fighting
elections in the South. Prime minister Erdogan fears he cannot make
more concessions to the Greek Cypriots without provoking a savage
nationalistic backlash at home which would drive AKP from office in
next year' s elections.

The intransigence of Mr Papadopoulos in maintaining the blockade of
the north seems to be based on the presumption that isolation and
poverty will cause the Turkish Cypriot community to wither away. He is
likely to be proved wrong.

The rapid emergence of the Turkish motherland as a richer and
self-assured regional power will ensure the survival of the small
Turkish Cypriot entity.

The EU has at last begun to subsidise the North, initially to the tune
of=82 139m. Evolving jurisprudence of the European Court of Justice
should gradually serve to spread the privileges of EU citizenship to
Turkish Cypriots.

The EU's need to ensure security of oil and gas supply heightens the
strategic importance of the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey's
integration with Europe may prove indispensable in the long run to the
development of a decent EU common foreign and security policy in the
Caspian region as well as to theEU's efforts to bring lasting
stability to the Balkans. In Brussels, aggravation at the lack of
generosity of the Greek Cypriots towards their Turkish compatriots

Turkey is in a stronger position than it realises, and the stakes are

It would be sadly self-defeating for Turkey to stop a Greek Cypriot
cargo ship from docking in Mersin. Better to call the bluff of Mr
Papadopoulos and do the deal on trade, bringing Turkey into line with
EU law and keeping the accession process on track.

To sweeten the bitter pill, Turkey should demand a joint EU-UN package
of measures for North Cyprus including visas, land swaps, cultural
exchange, financial and technical assistance - and, above all,
trade. Mr Gül rightly observes that `compromise is part of European
culture'. Nowis the time for all sides to the Cyprus dispute to show
themselves to be truly European.

Andrew Duff is vice-president of the EU-Turkey joint parliamentary

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