After years of delays, plans to kick-start stalled talks to reunify Cyprus, an island divided since 1974 by an unlawful Turkish invasion, have run into a new obstacle: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who refuses to recognize the country.
Erdogan’s statement that “there is no Cyprus” has also sidelined his country’s prospects – for now – of joining the European Union just as EU officials were edging closer to reopening talks on a series of stalled issues.
The biggest dilemma remains the continued unlawful presence of Turkish troops on the northern third of the island which only Turkey recognizes and calls the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, but Turkey’s miserable record on human rights and Erdogan’s hardline crackdown on protests this summer over a planned shopping center in Istanbul has set back its EU hopes.
Talks between the European Union and Turkey on Nov. 5, where negotiations over Turkish accession were resumed after a gap of three years, lasted only an hour with a photo and a press conference, a symbolic meeting where little of substance was to be discussed.
The topic of the meeting, the consideration of a new “chapter” in accession negotiations, is scarcely controversial. It deals with regional policy and the possibility of EU support for rural areas if Turkey should become a member. This is the 14th of a grand total of 35 chapters which have to be discussed.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule 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. Fule has advised member states to withdraw their objections, according to Deutsche-Welle (DW).
“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 – and that’s negotiations.
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.
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, she told DE. 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.
Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-Moon, who has been mediating the conflict for years, said that he was hopeful the two sides would soon put aside their differences of opinion. A new round of talks was to have begun by the end of the October, but negotiators couldn’t agree on a joint statement.
Political scientist Hubert Faustmann, who heads the German Friedrich Ebert political foundation in the Cypriot capital Nicosia, sees multifarious interests at work. Turkey has little reason to give way, but “it could relatively quickly move things forward a lot if it wanted to.”
It is 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.
Before leaving for the talks in Brussels, the Turkish minister for European affairs, Egemen Bagis, wrote in the Turkish newspaper Hurriyet 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.
On Nov. 4, 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.
President Nicos Anastasiades has said it would be a trap to engage in peace talks, knowing that the basic principles for a Cyprus solution are not being accepted by the Turkish Cypriot side.
He reiterated the need to conclude a joint declaration prior to starting peace talks, outlining the basic principles of a Cyprus solution in a clear and unambiguous manner.
“We will not enter into dialogue while knowing that the preconditions set by the other side (the Turkish Cypriot side) do not lead to a bizonal, bicommunal federation, with political equality,” He said, adding that Cyprus will not accept anything less than a solution providing for “a single sovereignty, a single international personality, and a single citizenship.”