Turkey’s broken path to EU membership,
ARTICLE IN BRIEF: As oil and gas exploration commences off the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus, Turkey’s foundering EU negotiations are again likely to come under the spotlight, despite a lack of domestic interest in the issue. An examination of the i
When one wishes to travel from Turkey to the European Union territories, one logically turns west and continues until reaching the first border -- that of Greece or Bulgaria, both slightly over 200 kilometers’ driving distance from İstanbul. However, given the political realities of the 21st century, if Turkey wishes to continue on its European journey it ought to turn east, toward the very end of the eastern Mediterranean, where the island of Cyprus is situated. There lies the key to Turkey’s EU membership.
Reasons for Turkey’s stalled EU accession process
Turkey’s EU membership in general and the quality (and quantity) of the negotiation process in particular became anchored to the Cyprus issue after the Republic of Cyprus (Greek Cyprus) joined the EU during the 2004 enlargement.
Recognized as a candidate country by the Helsinki European Council in 1999, Turkey officially began EU accession negotiations on Oct. 3, 2005. In theory, Turkey was then to begin the process of negotiating 35 chapters. Yet, in practice, fully six years later only 13 chapters have been opened and just one of them has been closed provisionally -- the remaining chapters have been frozen. (“Frozen” is a term that does not originate from the language of a political science; in the new EU terminology it refers to something currently on hold. It seems to be used when it is desirable to avoid the political consequences of using another word: stalemate.) Furthermore, only three chapters can currently be opened; all of the other chapters have been blocked by the Republic of Cyprus or because of the Cyprus issue.
Specifically, the Republic of Cyprus has obstructed the opening of six of the negotiation chapters, and eight have been blocked because of the Cyprus issue itself. France has halted a further five chapters on the grounds that opening those chapters would bring Turkey “closer to Europe.”
In addition to the freezing of all of these chapters, it has been decided that none of the negotiated chapters -- even those that have been opened -- can be closed
prior to the implementation of the Additional Protocol adapting the Association Agreement between Turkey and the European Union, implicitly requiring the opening of Turkey’s ports and airports to Republic of Cyprus-flagged vessels. In December 2006, the Council of the EU released the following statement: “[T]he Council decided in particular to suspend negotiations on eight chapters relevant to Turkey’s restrictions with regard to the Republic of Cyprus, and will not close the other chapters until Turkey fulfils its commitments under the additional protocol to the EU-Turkey association agreement, which extended the EU-Turkey customs union to the ten member states, including Cyprus, that joined the EU in May 2004.”
In the past, Turkish politicians and the public would pay close attention to the number of chapters frozen and those awaiting the legal harmonization process. But after the number of chapters unaffected by the political expectations of some EU member states boiled down to three -- the most difficult chapters: Public Procurement, Competition Policy and Social Policy and Employment -- no one counted the frozen chapters anymore. With or without the chapters life goes on in Turkey; the train has crashed and no one seems to have even noticed.
It is a pity, of course. Not life’s going on in Turkey without the chapters being negotiated: The country’s GDP reached approximately $174 billion in the first quarter of 2011, representing a growth rate of almost 10 percent. No, the pity is that the situation is what it is; that perhaps as a result of a partial reading of the history of the Cyprus problem the language of the official EU documents on the Cyprus conflict has little to do with a vision for a comprehensive solution and still calls on Turkey to take unilateral measures.
It is difficult for the Turkish public to understand why the unresolved Cyprus conflict was not an obstacle to the 2004 EU accession of the Republic of Cyprus, but is the main stumbling block before Turkey’s EU membership. Perhaps the public also believes that the EU has been using its Europeanization project in the case of Turkey to legitimize the decision it made in the case of Republic of Cyprus, i.e., to accept a country internally divided and not represented by both constitutional partners.
By forcing Turkey to normalize relations with the Republic of Cyprus before a solution to the Cyprus problem, it seems as if the EU is trying to acknowl- edge a fact that it ignored when admitting Cyprus into the Union in 2004: Article 2 of the constitution of the Republic of Cyprus stipulates that the president of the country must be Greek and the vice president Turkish, each elected by the Greek and Turkish communities, respectively. Furthermore, Article 3 declares that the official languages of the Republic of Cyprus are Greek and Turkish.
EU treaties are supposed to be written in all of the member states’ official languages, but in the case of Cyprus one of the official languages is missing. The treaties have not been drafted in an authentic Turkish text. In addition, the Turkish Cypriots, despite being EU citizens, do not have the option of using their own official EU language when contacting European institutions.
This situation is indeed an anomaly and contrary to the primary goal of the accession of Cyprus to the EU, which is (according to Protocol 10 to the Act of Accession) for the “benefit [of] all Cypriot citizens.”
Due to these inconsistencies, while European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso’s statement during a BBC interview that Turkey would not be able to join the EU before 2021 caused uproar among Turks in 2006, nowadays few pay attention to any deadlines from the EU or developments on the EU front.
Not so long ago, talks on “privileged partnership” created a stir in the Turkish public debate on the EU. As there is no difference between the basic elements of
Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül expressed publicly in his speech to the ambassadors of EU member states in Ankara as early as 2005: “There are things that Turkey cannot do by itself. Experience shows that on the Cyprus issue for example, Turkey’s effort alone is not enough to achieve a comprehensive solution.”
Indeed, even if Turkey unilaterally fulfills its obligations stemming from the customs union, this would mean nothing in terms of reaching a solution to the problem, specifically a just solution that takes the concerns of both the Greek and Turkish Cypriots into consideration.
Continuing isolation of Turkish Cypriots
All concerned parties have given many political and legal promises since the failed reunification attempt on the island. On April 26, 2004, at the Council of Foreign Ministers, only two days after the failure of the thenUN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s eponymous plan, the EU gave a formal promise to open up trade with the Turkish Cypriots in the form of the Direct Trade and Financial Aid Regulations.
This move was meant as a kind of reimbursement for their unfulfilled desire for reunification. Almost simultaneously, Turkey promised to accept the Republic of Cyprus (represented solely by the Greek Cypriot side) as a legitimate counterpart in the customs union established in 1995. This was in turn seen as a pledge to open Turkish ports and airports to Greek Cypriot vessels.
Adopting the Direct Trade Regulation as it was proposed would be in line with the logic of Article 3(1) of the Protocol (10) on Cyprus: “[N]othing in this Protocol shall preclude measures with a view to promoting the economic development of the areas referred to in Article 1,” meaning northern Cyprus.
Yet, although it is obvious from the results of the 2004 referenda on the Annan Plan that the suspension of the acquis is not the fault of the Turkish Cypriots, the government of the Republic of Cyprus argued that fostering trade with the Turkish Cypriots would violate the duty of loyalty of the EU vis-à-vis Cyprus as a member state. Furthermore, the Republic of Cyprus government held that the EU cannot unilaterally establish trade relations with areas not under the Republic of Cyprus’s effective control, because this would run counter to its 1974 decision to close all ports outside its control.
In contrast to the Republic of Cyprus’s domestic decision to close the Turkish Cypriot ports in Northern Cyprus to international traffic, the European Commission’s understanding is that “there is no prohibition under general international law to enter and leave seaports in the northern part of Cyprus.”
Moreover, when the EU imposes sanctions or “restrictive measures” against a certain entity or person, it does so openly and publicly, announcing it on the official EU website. While there are many EU sanction regimes that implement UN Security Council Resolutions adopted under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations in addition to autonomous EU regimes, none of these target the Turkish Cypriots. In fact, direct trade, along with other forms of international cooperation with the Turkish Cypriots, continued for some time after 1984.
So far, nothing has been done vis-à-vis the lifting -- or at least easing -- of the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots. Unilateral action from Turkey demanded by the EU would likely be an unbalancing factor in the
settlement negotiations between the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus. Therefore, Turkey proposed an “action plan” on the Cyprus issue on Jan. 24, 2006.
This “formula” established a political linkage between ending the isolation imposed on the Turkish Cypriots, in line with written declaration of the European Council on April 26, 2004, and the fulfillment of customs union responsibilities towards the Republic of Cyprus. That would mean a bilateral move, opening the ports not only in Turkey but also those in the Northern Cyprus to direct trade.
This proposal was further fine-tuned by State Minister for EU Affairs Egemen Bağış: In October 2009, at the annual Bosphorus Conference, he stated twice that the endorsement of the Direct Trade Regulation would be sufficient for Turkey to take reciprocal action. There were then several communications between Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus through intermediaries on this topic in late 2010.
While only history will tell whether the Turkish
THE WHOLE PROCESS REMAINS SUSPENDED, WITH ONLY THREE CHAPTERS OPENED AND NONE CLOSED, AND NOTHING IS BEING DONE TO LESSEN THE ISOLATION OF THE TURKISH CYPRIOTS
Foreign Ministry’s decision to make this political linkage was the right one, at present its proposal, calling for all parties to act together and move ahead, has been turned down both by the Greek Cypriots as well as officials in the EU.
Instead, the EU’s General Affairs & External Relations Council has demanded that Turkey “fulfill its obligation of full non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol to the Association Agreement.” The council declared that in the absence of progress on this issue it would maintain its measures from 2006, impacting the overall progress in Turkish-EU negotiations. In other words, the whole process remains suspended, with only three chapters opened and none closed, while nothing will be done to lessen the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots.
It has become apparent that continuing on the same path will not yield any positive results or a way out of the current stalemate. On the contrary, only innovative ideas, or the creation of new paths, as it were, would be meaningful at present.
Yet the EU member countries are neither ready nor willing to find an imaginative solution to the problem of Cyprus. Indeed, why would these countries spend time thinking about how to remove a major obstacle to Turkey’s EU membership when most have little appetite for Turkey’s joining the bloc or even for extending its borders. Furthermore, enlargement is no longer an issue on the daily agenda of the average European citizen, as the continuing economic crisis dominates everyday debates.
As always, Eurobarometer surveys reflect this trend. The Eurobarometer Report from 2009-2010 primarily focuses on the 2008-2009 economic crisis, which it terms “the most serious economic and financial crisis since 1929.” The majority of surveys are on economyrelated issues. Surveys on public opinion, the euro, economic indicators, and also issues of EU governance dominate. The issue of Turkey’s EU membership no longer constitutes a separate question in the surveys, and whether it joins the union or not seems to be a less polarizing issue than was previously the case.
So the fact is that both Turkey and the EU are hesitant about their joint future, and calls to lift the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, whether unilaterally or even in concert with Turkey, have fallen on deaf ears in the EU so far. The absence of a solution to the Cyprus problem is the most commonly cited reason for not allowing Turkish Cypriots to develop economically either through direct trade or otherwise. Greek Cypriot officials have repeated many times that it would not be prudent to touch upon the issue while negotiations between the leaders are taking place. The ostensible reason for not acting on this issue is that lifting the isolation should be the final result of the conflict resolution talks discussed by the leaders.
Let us remind ourselves that the respective leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities have been negotiating since 1968. And following the decision of April 2004, on Jan. 22, 2007, the European Council decided to take steps towards the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community “without delay.”
Yet the almost five years of inaction that have passed since then constitutes “a delay” by any reasonable standard. Turkish Cypriots have to wait for
permission to develop economically, pending the solution. On the other hand, the situation is in no way at a standstill when it comes to the economic development of the Greek Cypriots.
The oil and natural gas issue
At the beginning of February 2007, the first round for awarding licensing rights to explore and exploit Cyprus’ offshore oil and gas deposits was opened. The exploration rights were given to Texas-based Noble Energy, which -- in line with the licensing agreement -- must start drilling between October 2011 and October 2013. Drilling work has already commenced.
Greek Cypriots are hoping to find massive hydrocarbon fields under the seabed, approximately 10 trillion cubic feet (tcf). According to Greek Cypriot officials, Cyprus could become a key geopolitical and geostrategic player in the Mediterranean region by offering opportunities for new oil and gas supply routes to Europe.
However, as has been mentioned, serious issues remain in terms of finding a solution to the Cyprus issue. The “Cyprus” referred to by Greek Cypriot officials is at the moment only represented by Greek Cypriots, and this brings us to the question: Who has a right to what in Cyprus?
As everyone who has ever given any decision with respect to Cyprus surely knows, the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots are equal partners according to the still valid -- though since 1963 dysfunctional -- constitution of the Republic of Cyprus. Had the Annan Plan, which envisaged a federal state of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, been accepted, the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons would have been under the control of the new federal government.
So how does this unilateral move of Greek Cypriots -- to explore gas and oil in an area where maritime borders are not fully settled -- fit into the peace talks about the joint future with Turkish Cypriots? Is oil in Cyprus a divine gift or a tool of destruction? Former Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Nicos Rolandis (who can be considered the architect of the hydrocarbon deal) answered this question in 2006: “I believe that if we try to ignore Turkish Cypriots and their interests in this pivotal issue [of offshore oil and natural gas] we shall choose a path of ‘destruction’” (Cyprus Mail, May 14, 2006). Conducting the drilling at this time and in a corner of the Mediterranean home to more than one unre- solved conflict, and bordering Lebanon and Israel, has great potential to escalate pre-existing regional tensions.
But the whole situation can also be seen from another angle. The fact that Greek Cypriots will not wait for a federal solution before allowing the exploration of gas and oil in the seabed surrounding an area south of the existing borders opens paths to different outcomes. As time passes and decisions are made, there are fewer competences left for a prospective Cypriot federal government to cover. Turkish Cypriots will go on with their own hydrocarbon exploration on the basis of reciprocity. They will find other ways to develop economically. But federation will no longer be feasible.
If so, it is definitely not a job for the Turkish navy to insist on a Greek Cypriot federal approach to hydrocarbon exploration set to commence in the area of 13 blocks covering approximately 51,000 square kilometers, all situated south of the Green Line constituting the existing border with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC).
(R-L) Then-Foreign Minister Gül, thenBritish Foreign Minister Jack Straw and then-EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn mark the start of Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU. (Oct. 2, 2005)
Support for the Annan Plan in 2004