On his first official visit to Turkey, EU Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle urged his hosts to fully normalise relations with EU member Cyprus, but heard from his interlocutors that the Cyprus issue should not affect their country’s EU accession process. EurActiv Turkey reports.
The division of Cyprus represents one of the most difficult issues affecting EU-Turkey relations, with the future of Turkey’s accession talks hinging on the successful resolution of the problem.
Despite repeated efforts under the auspices of the UN to bring the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to the negotiating table, the island has remained divided since 1974.
Hopes were raised in 1992 when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented a reunification plan, suggesting a two-part federation with a rotating presidency.
In April 2004, the Greek Cypriots rejected and the Turkish Cypriots approved in a referendum a UN-sponsored unity plan known as the Annan Plan. The plan’s failure disappointed EU officials, who had agreed to allow Cyprus to join that year partly in the hope that doing so would encourage a solution to the Cyprus problem. In May 2004, the Greek Cypriot-controlled ‘Republic of Cyprus’ became a full member of the EU.
At their December 2004 summit, EU leaders agreed to open accession talks with Turkey on 3 October 2005. One of the conditions specified was for Ankara to extend a 1963 association agreement with the EU’s predecessor, the European Economic Community, to the Union’s ten new member states. This group includes the Greek Cypriot state, which is not recognised by Turkey.
In July 2005, Turkey signed a protocol extending its customs union to the EU-10 states, but at the same time Ankara issued a declaration saying that its signature did not mean it had recognised the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey also refused to open its ports and airports to Cyprus, as it claims the EU has fallen short of having direct trade with the unrecognized Northern part of the island (EurActiv 08/10/10).
So far, only one accession chapter (science and research) has been provisionally closed. Eleven more have been opened, but eight remain blocked over Turkey’s failure to implement the Ankara Protocol, which states that access should be granted and ports opened to vessels from the Republic of Cyprus.
Speaking to the press on Monday (15 March) after meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, Füle confirmed the European Commission’s support for Turkey’s EU bid but urged the country “to fully implement additional protocols and normalise relations with Cyprus” (see ‘Background’).
“A comprehensive settlement on Cyprus would be an historic breakthrough to the benefit of both Turkey and the EU,” Füle said.
However, Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoğlu said Turkey’s accession talks should not be upset by “political problems that have no direct link to the EU process”.
Recently, Turkey’s EU minister and chief negotiator on accession, Egemen Bagiş, argued that since the Cyprus issue was not a prerequisite for the membership of Cyprus itself, neither should it be a prerequisite for the membership of another country (EurActiv 08/10/09).
Füle’s predecessor, Olli Rehn, recently said that during his five years as enlargement commissioner all his ambitions had been realised with the exception of Cyprus, where reunification talks are still ongoing (EurActiv 26/11/09).
Of vice and virtue
In an article published in Turkish daily Hurriyet, Füle writes that he is convinced that Brussels and Ankara can turn around the vicious circle of a Cyprus stalemate and blocked accession negotiations. He expressed conviction that it will be possible to move “from a vicious circle into a virtuous one, provided there is political will of all actors involved”.
Füle believes Turkey is a “key country” for the EU due to its location, size and strategic orientation. Repeating the answer he gave in the European Parliament at his confirmation hearing, when MEPs asked him if he could imagine a country like Turkey in the EU, he said his answer remained the same: “Yes, I can.”
The enlargement commissioner also encouraged further progress in Turkish-Armenian relations. The two neighbouring countries sealed last September an historic deal to establish diplomatic ties and open their borders (EurActiv 01/09/09), but that process has since stalled.
Asked to comment on successive votes by a US congressional panel and the Swedish parliament branding the killings as “genocide” (EurActiv 12/03/10), Füle said: “As someone who comes from the former Czechoslovakia, from the Czech Republic, I know that politicising history makes reconciliation difficult.”
The other issues on Füle’s agenda was visa liberalisation, with Brussels and Ankara discussing a readmission agreement to cooperate in fighting illegal immigration. The commissioner said Turkish citizens would get Schengen visas more easily once the two sides had reached an agreement.
Davutoğlu, however, said visa liberalisation must be granted to Turkey once it has fulfilled the requirements.
The commissioner later met with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, chief EU negotiator Egemen Bağış and several MPs. He also met the president of the Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges Rifat Hisarcıklıoğlu and representatives of TUSIAD – the Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association.
In an article published in Turkish daily Hurriyet, Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle writes that he is aware that some people in both the EU and Turkey are questioning the course of Turkish EU accession. “But I have no doubt that honoring our commitments is the right thing to do so that our engagement remains credible,” he adds.
“Credibility needs building with concrete actions on both sides. We will continue our cooperation programme and support the ambitious reforms undertaken in Turkey. We need to continue working together on the negotiations, opening new chapters as well as making progress in the chapters that have already been opened. We need to overcome the deadlock over Cyprus. With the ongoing negotiations in Cyprus there is a unique opportunity to find a comprehensive settlement to reunify the island. I will use all the instruments at my disposal to support a solution to this problem,” Füle writes.
In a commentary published in Turkish daily Zaman, Amanda Paul of the European Policy Centre, a Brussels think-tank, writes that on Cyprus “Turkey always claims to be driving forward a solution and continues to deny any wrongdoing in the past, rather continuing to state that its role in the Cyprus conflict was to bring peace to the island and placing the blame elsewhere for the continued division”.
“It is the same when it comes to the membership negotiations with the EU. Blame for the stagnation of the talks always lies at the feet of the EU. But this approach should come as no big surprise given the fact that many Turks are simply unable to accept or acknowledge that their country, and the Ottoman Empire before it, has ever behaved in a way that was less than perfect. They are unable to deal with the past and have trouble acknowledging that sometimes Turkey does make mistakes. Rather they prefer to point the finger at others,” Paul concludes.