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Mutual Understanding in European and Turkish Interests

Monday 26 February 2007, by Cem Özdemir

Source : Qantara.de

In the discussion between the European Union and Turkey, Cem Özdemir calls for fresh impetus in the Cyprus issue. He says the German government also needs to do all it can during its term as EU president for rapprochement between the conflicting parties.

- Cem Özdemir is a member of the European Parliament for the Green party.

Turkey is not only a special candidate to join the EU, it is also a difficult one. The country’s desire to become a member of the EU has divided public opinion in Germany and Europe, even though Turkey’s acceptance lies in the distant future and numerous reforms must first be implemented that will bring significant changes to the country.

One condition that needs to be satisfied on the road to EU accession is the implementation of the Ankara Protocol, that is, Turkey must formally recognize Cyprus. To this end the EU foreign ministers have now agreed, in line with an EU commission proposal, to freeze talks on eight chapters dealing with free movement of goods and services.

A compromise one can live with

The government in Ankara might criticize this decision by the EU foreign ministers as “unfair,” but in view of the ongoing impasse in the Cyprus problem it is a compromise that one can live with for the time being. Furthermore, it will prevent the issue of Turkey’s EU accession from being exploited in the upcoming elections in France and Turkey.

From a European perspective, Turkey’s actions have with good reason triggered surprise if not a total lack of understanding, as the customs union requires of course that Turkey open its ports to southern Cyprus.

But that is only half the truth, which some people like to sell as the whole thing. In a referendum held separately in the two parts of Cyprus in 2004, Turkish Cypriots approved the so-called Annan Plan, which provided for the reunification of Cyprus, whereas Greek Cypriots rejected it. This created a new reality.

Broken EU promise

The Greeks on the island were rewarded directly following with EU membership, which on account of the right of veto now makes them a judge of Turkey’s EU ambitions. Turkish Cypriots, on the other hand, are still waiting for their isolation to end, as officially promised by an EU resolution.

But Cyprus has been blocking the direct trade and EU financial aid for the northern part of the island, as was already approved in 2004. Anyone refusing to acknowledge this side of the problem presumably has no interest in having Turkey join the EU in any case, and might even find the Cyprus conflict to be extremely opportune.

All parties involved in the Cyprus issue must show flexibility in order to find a solution. Recent policies under President Papadopoulos in the Greek part of the island, however, are reminiscent of a phase of darkness like the one Turkish Cypriots in the north experienced under Rauf Denktash.

Current examples of attitudes in the south that are blocking rapprochement between the conflicting parties are the censorship of the film Akamas by Greek Cypriot director Panicos Chrysanthou (the film tells a love story to follow the conflict from the 1950s to the 1970s), obstruction of the artistic project of the International Manifesta Foundation planned to take place in both sectors, threats to foreign foundations in the north, and the tightening of property laws, which would make living on formerly Greek property in the north punishable by seven years’ imprisonment.

Going far out on a limb

An ultimate solution to the Cyprus conflict can only be achieved under the leadership of the United Nations. Yet the German government also needs to do all it can during its EU presidency for rapprochement between the conflicting parties.

The Turkish government under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is going far out on a limb with its recent move to open a port for Cypriot ships, because the military and the Nationalists are putting Erdogan under considerable pressure domestically, also in view of the upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

Turkey and EU interests

What government in Ankara could afford to open the ports for Greek Cypriots without at the same time doing something for the Turks in the northern part of the island? For Erdogan’s clearly pro-European government that would be political suicide and would ultimately strengthen the Nationalists. No one in Europe could remain unfazed by that unless they are opposed to Turkey’s EU accession anyway.

The debate on EU expansion is presently characterized in particular by domestic policy calculations and virtually autistic European policies. And that although the EU had good reason to decide – unanimously – to open accession talks with Turkey.

The government chiefs were guided in doing that not by Turkish interests, but largely by European interests. This concerns a democratic Turkey with a Muslim majority, which respects human rights, protects minorities, and is prospering economically on the basis of political stability. It is obvious that such a Turkey also serves the interests of the European Union.

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