After the ‘golden years’ between 1999 and 2005, Turkey-EU relations plunged into a stalemate in the post-2005 period. The profound reforms that were implemented by the Turkish government to converge with the EU acquis communitaire almost came to a halt, and the EU diluted its promises after Turkey became a “negotiating candidate country.” The virtuous cycle and the constructive atmosphere, in other words, evaporated in relatively a short period of time starting from early 2006. As the Independent Commission report underlines, Turkey-EU relations entered a “vicious circle” in the post-2005 period.
It can be confidently said that many factors underpinned the abovementioned U-turn. At first, both sides dealt with the fizzling agendas and Kafkaesque domestic affairs. On the Turkish side, the Presidential elections in 2007 and the tug-of-war between government and the military triggered the tension in domestic affairs. Also, in mid-2007, Turkey started to discuss the Ergenekon case. The AKP closure case also contributed to the turmoil in the country during the first half of 2008. On the EU’s side, the failure of the ‘European Constitution’ after the referenda in France and the Netherlands and the unsuccessful Irish referendum regarding the Lisbon Treaty led the EU to drift away from the idea of further enlargements. The Europeans suddenly found themselves at the center of an ‘existential crisis’ and widely questioned “what is Europe?” and “who are the Europeans?” Amid these discussions, the global financial crisis and the run of bankruptcies in the EU member states caused people to concentrate on the devastating effects of the global crisis.
In short, both Turkey and the EU lost their ambitions towards each other during the post-2005 period. In the meantime, however, one issue occupied the focal point and was widely used as a ‘legitimate’ reason by the EU to explain its distant attitude against Turkey’s membership bid. This reason is the Cyprus issue, the long-lasting, ubiquitous hurdle before Turkey-EU relations.
The Cyprus Question in Turkey-EU Relations after 2005
After the Greek Cypriot Authority was accepted for EU membership as the “legal representative” of the whole island in 2004, Turkey’s relations with the Union became more problematic than the past. Turkey was requested to comply with the previous legal documents regarding the Customs Union, namely the Additional Protocol, and to open its ports to the 10 new EU member countries including the Greek side of the island.
On 29 July 2005, the Turkish side signed the Additional Protocol. Yet, it published a declaration and argued that “the signature, ratification and implementation of [the] Protocol neither amount to any form of recognition of the Republic of Cyprus referred to in the Protocol; nor prejudice Turkey’s rights and obligations emanating from the Treaty of Guarantee, the Treaty of Alliance, and the Treaty of Establishment of 1960.” On 21 September 2005, the EU side replied to Turkey by arguing that recognizing a member county is an indispensible part of negotiation process and reminded Turkey of its responsibility to open its ports and air bases:
“The European Community and its Member States expect full, non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol, and the removal of all obstacles to the free movement of goods, including restrictions on means of transport.”
The EU concluded to closely monitor whether Turkey would remove obstacles to Greek Cypriot ships and decided to evaluate full implementation in 2006. Since Turkey did not open its ports on the ground that the EU did not comply with its promises to lift the bans over the Turkish Cypriot Community in the post-Annan referendum process due to the recalcitrant Greek and Greek Cypriot veto, the European leaders froze eight chapters and decided not to close other chapters until Turkey opens its ports to the Greek Cypriot ships.
After this decision, the relations between Turkey and the EU deteriorated significantly. Unsurprisingly, the Turkish side was deeply disappointed and started to question the sincerity of the EU. Some of the EU leaders’ contradictory messages also aggravated Turkey’s concerns. Although in December 2004 the European Council declared that Turkey should be treated to the same as any other candidate countries, Germany’s Merkel and France’s Sarkozy insisted on a “privileged partnership” for Turkey. All in all, as of 2009, the relations almost came to a halt, and the Cyprus question occupied the central (visible) point as an obstacle.
It is now expected that the EU will give its final decision on whether or not to continue the negotiations as of the end of 2009. How the EU will react to the Cyprus problem in the following months is not clear. While the negotiations still continue between the two sides of the Island, a solution is not likely to be found before the end of this year, and Turkey does act reluctantly to open its ports and borders to the Greek Cypriot Community, ceteris paribus. Under these circumstances what will happen to the Turkey-EU relations? Will the EU block Turkey’s negotiation process and will Turkey’s bid to join the EU come to an end?
It is a hard question, the answer to which cannot be known beforehand. Yet, one must remember that Turkey-EU relations depend on many variables and the Cyprus case is not the only parameter, although it is an important one. What should be said at this point is that the EU bears responsibility for the Cyprus dispute, because it became a party to the conflict by accepting the Greek Cypriot Authority as the legal representative of the Island, though the Greek Cypriots voted against (with 76%) the UN sponsored and EU-backed Annan Plan. Moreover, none of the vital promises given to the Turkish Cypriots before the Annan Referendum were kept. Accordingly, different EU leaders and bureaucrats have commented on the mistake of accepting Greek Cypriot Authority as the representative of the whole Island many times. Taking these facts into consideration, the EU is not just a referee but a player in the game, which forces it to bear more responsibility. As the Independent Commission report underlines, “the EU must assume its responsibility for the injustices and absurdities of the situation [in Cyprus].”
All in all, the EU should think twice before giving a final decision within the context of Cyprus question. Neither Turkey nor the EU may gain if the relations are derailed at the end of this year. In the final analysis, it should be kept in mind that the future of Turkey-EU relations has the strong capacity to influence the course of the events over Turkey, the Union, the region and the world political economy.