Turkey may have fulfilled most of the criteria necessary for accession, but its chances could be tripped up by the Cyprus issue when the EU takes its decision on Friday.
On that day, the EU heads of state will decide whether or not to open accession talks with Turkey, some 40 years after the country first applied to become a member of the European club.
With a range of issues setting Greek Cypriots against the Turks there is a strong demand in Greece for using the country’s right of veto to block Turkey from entering the EU.
“We can’t let the Turks in. They aren’t European or Christian,” says storekeeper Alexis Kotronis from Nicosia. “They invaded our island and have occupied part of it since 1974.”
Back then, the Turkish army landed on Cyprus after a coup backed by the then military government in Athens had overthrown the Cypriot government. The Turks see the 1974 invasion as a peace operation designed to rescue their Turkish Cypriot brethren on the island from ethnic cleansing by the Greek Cypriots.
Greek Cypriots rejected the
The Greeks, however, view this as an invasion and subsequent occupation by a foreign power.
Ever since, the UN and others have been trying to bring the divided island back together. Last April, a referendum on reunification was accepted by the Turkish Cypriots, but rejected by the Greek Cypriots.
“The EU authorities said back then that Turkey had done its share to try and bring reconciliation,” says Professor Iltar Turan of Istanbul‘s Bilgi University.
“In return, the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots was to end. Not much happened on this, and within a few days the Greek Cypriots had been admitted to the EU.”
When they acceded to EU membership in May, the Greek Cypriot-dominated Republic of Cyprus was recognised as the government of the entire island. The Turkish Cypriot part was not recognised.
“The Greek Cypriots now say that Turkey should also recognise the Republic of Cyprus as one of the conditions for starting EU membership talks,” says Turan.
Currently Turkey recognises only the Turkish Cypriot part of the island and has no diplomatic relations with the Greek Cypriots.
Erdogan will not recognise the
“Yet giving the Republic of Cyprus full recognition is unacceptable to Turkey, as this would be the same as accepting Greek Cypriot sovereignty over Turkish Cyprus,” says Turan.
This means that if EU membership talks with Turkey were to start, around the table would be representatives of two governments that do not recognise each other.
The pressure has therefore been on Turkey from EU member-states to reach some kind of formula that would allow talks to go ahead, even if it is recognition in all but name.
Yet Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been adamant that Turkey will not recognise the Republic of Cyprus or accept any extra conditions on its EU accession process.
“I hope that a week from today,” he said in Brussels last Friday, “EU member-states will reach a decision on opening negotiations without delay which does not deviate from the perspective of clear, full and unconditional membership.”
This prompted a statement from the Greek Cypriot’s permanent EU representative, Nicos Emiliou, that his country “may be pushed down a path it does not want to take” if Ankara refused to recognise it. This was widely seen as a threat to veto Turkey‘s EU accession.
Papadopolous (R) may not
Others question just how far the Greek Cypriots may really want to go with such a stance.
“A lot of this is really just for domestic consumption,” says Jean Christou of the Nicosia-based Cyprus Mail. “The government [of the Republic of Cyprus] cannot be seen to let Turkey get a date for EU accession talks and get nothing for this itself.”
At the same time, Greek Cypriot President Papadopolous is holding his cards close to his chest, says leading Turkish columnist Sami Kohen. “But I don’t think he’d go so far as to veto.”
In fact, many point to the recent meeting of Papadopolous’ ruling party, DIKO, and the accusations from among hardline members that the president was selling out the Greek Cypriots. This, some observers suggest, is evidence that he will take a more reconciliatory approach to Turkey on Friday.
Backing for veto
“Nobody in Europe is speaking of a veto,” Papadopolous said after the meeting. “Have you heard any country in Europe speak of a veto? They are speaking of the conditions which must be imposed on Turkey to become a member.”
A veto on Turkey’s accession
Yet the acting head of DIKO, Nicos Cleanthous, said on Sunday that “in Europe, no one else will come and veto on our account,” apparently supporting the idea of using the veto.
However, Turan believes a compromise will be used.
“Our anticipation is that, in some roundabout way, some device will be found to start and continue negotiations on Turkey‘s accession,” he said.
“There are many ways to recognise someone short of full, official recognition.”
Few think the Greek Cypriot government would be willing to face the kind of hostility and isolation vetoing Turkey might draw from other EU member-states which want Turkey to join.
“I think Papadopolous understands that he would be isolated and under immense pressure if he used the veto,” says Kohen.
“If Turkey gets a date, it would be very positive”
At the same time, an EU decision to accept Turkey might also speed up the search for a solution on the island.
“The EU, the UN and the US all have an interest in finding a solution to the Cyprus issue,” continues Kohen. “If Turkey, Greece and Cyprus were all in the EU, then an EU initiative could solve the problem.”
“However,” Kohen warns, “if the EU rebuffs Turkey, Turkey will not be interested in any EU initiative to solve the Cyprus problem.
Polls among Greek Cypriots show about 60% are in favour of the veto.
“If they are allowed to join,” says Kotronis, “it will be as if they have been allowed to get away with everything.”
Yet others disagree. “If Turkey gets a date,” says Christou, “it would be very positive. The two sides need to be willing to move forward on this, and perhaps this will help with that.”