In the middle of an EU crisis over Turkey?

                                            by Giorgos Kentas, Research Fellow


By declaring that her signature on the Protocol extending the Ankara Agreement to the ten new EU member countries does not constitute recognition of the Republic of Cyprus, Turkey has caused some trouble for herself. French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin was the first to react to Turkey’s declaration. On August 2, 2005 he stated that Turkey’s position vis-à-vis an EU member state, Cyprus, was inconceivable. Inevitably, the French response induced a fresh debate in the EU over Turkey’s accession negotiations. Some countries like Austria, Holland and Denmark took the opportunity to express their turko-scepticism, while Britain sought to smooth Turkey’s way out of an untenable position.


The British Presidency’s draft on the Turkish declaration satisfied neither Cyprus nor France, and so the 25 member states started working on a compromise for a unanimous response which, however, was not easy to achieve. Within the EU, two camps holding opposing positions were formed. On the one hand, there was France, Austria, Cyprus and Greece who insisted that the EU should come out with a strongly-worded response to Turkey’s declaration calling on her not only to implement the Protocol in full but also to start normalizing its relations with the Republic of Cyprus. These countries have argued that Turkey cannot seek accession to the Union without recognizing one of its member states, namely the Republic of Cyprus. On the other hand, Britain maintains that the EU should not respond with a strong statement over Turkey’s declaration. Britain also says that the issue of recognition should be dealt with through the negotiations over the Cyprus problem and not through Turkey’s negotiations with the EU. In a recent speech (September 8, 2005), British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw implied that the Cyprus problem should not stand as an obstacle in Turkey’s bid to join the Union. He recalled the problems Britain has with Ireland over the six counties of Northern Ireland and with Spain over Gibraltar, to claim that these kinds of sovereignty issues could be dealt with over time and that, therefore, there was no rush to resolve Turkey’s attitude towards Cyprus overnight.


In the coming days, the Union has to make some tough decisions over Turkey. It first has to prepare a unanimous response to Turkey’s declaration, and second, the 25 member states also have to finalize the negotiating framework the Commission proposed earlier this summer. To meet these urgent commitments, the two opposing camps have either to step back from their positions or reformulate them.


The question now is whether Britain or France will step back and how far Cyprus can go. As things stand today (September 12, 2005), resolving the issue of the EU’s response to Turkey’s declaration and deciding on the latter’s negotiating road map will not be easy. The way out could be an ambiguous statement on Turkey’s declaration and a woolly road map for her negotiations.  If this is the way things turn out, the EU would not be avoiding a crisis over Turkey; it would merely be postponing it.


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