Turkish Conflicts Block EU Road, Cyprus Solution

Apart from a weak compromise that allows Turkish-Cypriot soccer teams to move closer to hopes of playing internationally with sanction from the sport’s ruling body FIFA, long-unresolved disputes between the two countries has left Turkey’s European Union bid floundering and preventing any progress in re-unification talks for the island that’s been divided since 1974.

UN diplomats struggled to revive stalled peace talks on Cyprus, where an ethnic division dating back four decades is dogging Turkey’s bid to join the European Union. UN envoys have been shuttling between the two sides of the split Mediterranean island trying to agree on the wording of a joint statement by Greek and Turkish Cypriots to pave the way for resuming talks after an 18-month hiatus.

But so far there is little sign of a breakthrough. “We are all putting a huge effort into this joint declaration, it’s a very important component of the process and the Secretary-General wants the two leaders to agree on a joint declaration, so work is still proceeding,” said Alexander Downer, Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for the island, according to Reuters.

In earlier visits to Cyprus, Downer had said he hoped talks could resume in October but now said that efforts were “inching ahead, not leaping ahead,” although a Greek Cypriot official said the deadlocked  process was not deadlocked but didn’t explain how the failure to resume talks was progress.

Cyprus was split by a Turkish invasion following a Greek-inspired coup on the island in 1974 and Ankara’s aspirations of joining the EU hinge on a deal to finally end the conflict. Negotiations have repeatedly stumbled on issues ranging from power sharing to redrawing territorial boundaries and the property claims of tens of thousands displaced in conflict.

Hopes to break the impasse on Cyprus came just as the EU said it was hoping to move Turkey’s EU bid ahead after eight years of talks, but that has stumbled over Cyprus as well, with remaining Turkish occupation of the island the biggest stumbling block, along with Turkey’s refusal to recognize Cyprus or allow Cypriot ships and planes into the country even though Cyprus is already in the EU.

Talks between the EU and Turkey on Nov. 5 lasted only an hour and were seen as a symbolic photo opportunity. It was the first time negotiations had resumed in three years.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle has issued a positive report on Turkish progress, although he recognized deficits in the fields of freedom of expression and religion and the independence of the judiciary. But the violent suppression of demonstrations in May and June led some of the foreign ministers to refuse to take up discussions on more difficult issues, such as human rights or the judicial system. Füle has advised member states to withdraw their objections.

“If we want Turkey to address issues of fundamental freedoms and rights, let’s use the most effective instrument we have for that purpose,” he said, Deutsche Welle reported.

Accession negotiations began in 2005 after decades of preparation. They’ve been progressing sluggishly ever since, and none of the chapters in the negotiations has been legally wrapped up. Fourteen chapters are blocked, either by an EU resolution or by a veto by Cyprus, which, although a member of the EU, is not recognized by Turkey.

HITTING CYPRIOT SPEED BUMPS

The northern third of Cyprus has been under Turkish military occupation since 1974. In April 2004, just before Cyprus was due to join the EU, a referendum over a reunification plan drawn up by the United Nations was defeated when the Greek Cypriots of the south voted against it.

This unresolved conflict, says the EU Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, Ria Oomen-Ruijten, acts as a total brake on the negotiations. Although there are talks between the two ethnic groups in North and South Cyprus, she thinks Turkey ought to put more effort into the process.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, who has failed for years to make any progress repeated his common mantra that he was hopeful the two sides would soon put aside their differences of opinion but they never had and he’s not pressured them.

Political scientist Hubert Faustmann, who heads the German Friedrich Ebert political foundation in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, told DW that Turkey has little reason to give way, but “it could relatively quickly move things forward a lot if it wanted to.”

It’s also not clear where things are going in relations between the EU and Turkey. “But it’s clear that the Cyprus problem is a significant hurdle in the whole story,” he said.

The Turkish minister for European affairs, Egemen Bagis, wrote in the Turkish newspaper Hürriyet that Turkey had been waiting longer for membership in the EU than any other country. He saw the new chapter as a “late, but positive step,” and hoped “that the senseless political blockade of other chapters will be lifted as soon as possible.”

As far as the EU is concerned, Turkey itself could make a contribution to this process if it were at least to recognize Cyprus indirectly. In the so-called Ankara Protocol, Turkey committed itself to allowing Cypriot ships and planes into its country. So far, it has not done so.

Cypriot Interior Minister, Socratis Hasikos, told the Cyprus Mail that the government did not want the talks between the two groups on the island to break down. That meant they had to be very careful – and thoroughly prepared. He called on Turkey to show more commitment. The EU, he argued, should also play a role.