Turkey’s EU bid meets another Cyprus roadblock
Negotiating Turkey’s accession to the European Union hasn’t exactly been smooth sailing. But it may be about to get tougher still.
Europeans are already divided over the prospect of inviting a largely Muslim nation into their club of 27 states. And while some are attracted by Turkey’s huge economic potential, that’s frequently shadowed by its much-criticised human rights record.
As a result, Ankara’s membership negotiations with Brussels have, perhaps predictably, been slow.
Now a presidential election in northern Cyprus, a sliver of land only twice the size of London, is threatening to wreck any chance of a serious revival in those talks for years.
If opinion polls prove correct, hardline right-wing candidate Dervis Eroglu will oust incumbent Mehmet Ali Talat in the vote this Sunday. Reunification talks between the province, recognised as a state only by Ankara, and the rest of Cyprus could grind to a halt under Eroglu’s leadership.
The conflict started shortly after Britain granted independence to the Mediterranean island in 1960, sparking fighting between its Greek and Turkish communities.
In 1974, a Greek-inspired coup prompted Turkey to invade the island and carve out its own province in the north. Decades of wearisome stop-and-go reunification talks have followed.
Why is this vital for Turkey’s accession talks? For one, EU governments will not accept a new member in the midst of a territorial dispute that involves a military
standoff. Turkey has about 30,000 troops on Cyprus and as a result the Greek Cypriots will always block its EU negotiations. Any trouble on Cyprus — or even a hint thereof — will tend to play into the hands of critics of Turkey’s accession.
But the EU is in a bind. It wants to keep Turkey engaged because Ankara’s clout on the global stage is growing. With a population of 70 million and a location on the globe that makes it a cultural and trade crossroads, Turkey is a resurgent economic and geopolitical power.
It showed its teeth last year, threatening to block an appointment of a new head of NATO and winning concessions in return. On the table is also its role as a behind-the-scenes Middle East liaison, its close relations with Iran and its control over energy supply routes. Knowing this, Turkey is able to use Cyprus as a diplomatic bargaining chip in its EU talks.
The EU’s new enlargement chief, Stefan Fuele, says the next move belongs to Ankara. Funnily enough, Ankara’s representatives in Brussels suggest the next move is up to European Union. From the Turkish point of view, it the EU needs Turkey more, not the other way around.
What Fuele needs is a plan if talks come crashing down.