Greek Cyprus presidency puts Turkey at an impasse
With the Greek Cypriot-led EU presidency, many fear new tensions with Ankara may further damage Turkey's already troubled EU process.
By Ayhan Simsek for SES Türkiye -- 03/07/12
In a much anticipated development, Greek Cyprus took over the helm of the rotating EU presidency on Sunday (June 1st), risking a deeper crisis between Turkey and the EU during the second half of this year.
Turkish Cypriot protestors dressed as ghosts to show their anger at not being represented in Cyprus' presidency of the European Council. [Reuters]
For months, Turkey has been unable to make any visible progress in its EU membership talks. Of 35 negotiation chapters, 14 remain blocked due to the Cyprus problem. Turkey warned late last year that it would freeze all relations with the EU if the Greek Cypriots were given the EU presidency prior to a settlement on the divided island.
But Ankara has since softened its response, signaling that it will limit its boycott only to the presidency, meetings chaired by the Greek Cypriots and EU gatherings held on the Greek Cypriot side of the island.
"Turkey's reaction to the Greek Cypriot presidency has been strong. But at the same time, the Turkish side refrained from freezing all relations with European institutions," Erhan Ercin, the director of the EU Co-ordination Centre in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, told SES Türkiye.
"This is a measured response, reflecting a balanced approach. We as Turkish Cypriots support the boycott by Turkey," he said.
Ankara disputes Greek Cyprus's claim to be the sole sovereign state of the island and recognises only the breakaway state of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
The last major international attempt to reunify the island, the so-called Annan Plan, failed in 2004. In a referendum, 65% of Turkish Cypriots said "yes" to the UN-backed plan, while 76% of Greek Cypriots voted against the plan they had helped draw up. The Greek Cypriot-led Republic of Cyprus became a member of the EU in May 2004, despite the lack of a settlement.
Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots argue there is no incentive for the Greek Cypriots to compromise on a solution for the divided island now that the Greek half enjoys EU membership. With its boycott of Cyprus's EU presidency, Turkey aims to increase pressure over EU member states to use their influence on the Greek Cypriots.
A recent joint article by 16 European foreign ministers showed that European countries want to contain damage caused by the Cyprus problem and strive to revive Turkey's EU process.
"At a time when the EU faces economic challenges and continuing instability in the Middle East, the relationship with Turkey matters more than ever," the article, published in euobserver last week, said.
Many observers note that Turkey's close contact with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on important topics -- including the Iran nuclear crisis and the situation in Syria -- will continue, despite Ankara's boycott of the Union presidency.
Experts said that due to the recent changes in the EU's political and decision making structure introduced by the Lisbon Treaty, the role of the rotating presidency has been significantly decreased.
"The Cyprus EU presidency may have a 10% role in influencing relations between the EU and Turkey, but not more," said Bahadir Kaleagasi, the international co-ordinator of the influential Turkish Industrialists' and Businessmen's Association (TUSIAD).
According to Kaleagasi, what Turkey should do is focus further on reforms to overcome the Cyprus impasse and revive its EU bid.
"Turkey should not waste its time by focusing on discussions like Cyprus's presidency, or populist statements by some European politicians against Turkey's EU membership," he told SES Türkiye.
"Turkey should rather focus on its own work. In this regard, the opportunity to draft Turkey's first civilian-written constitution can offer an exit point for the country," he said.