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Cyprus Still an Issue for Egemen Bağış, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan and Turkey-EU Negotiations
This article was originally written and published in 2011. For an update (2017) on Turkey's accession process into the EU, please visit the European Commission's webpage on Turkey-EU negotiations and the Turkish Ministry for EU Affairs report on the status of opened chapters.
Turkey’s new EU Minister, Egemen Bağış, is working tirelessly to move Turkey forward in its negotiations with the EU. Turkey applied for association to the European Economic Community in 1959, and in 1999 the Helsinki European Council officially recognized Turkey for enlargement candidacy status. Unfortunately, little progress has been made since the Helsinki European Council decision in 1999. The Turkey-EU negotiations were extended in 2005 with the Treaty of Ankara. Since 2005, the EU has only closed one chapter out of a total thirty-five negotiations, and opened thirteen chapters (Turkey European Union Association, 2006). Through all of this, one of the main obstacles to accession into the EU has been the recurring issues between Turkey and Cyprus.
One of the EU’s requests demands that Turkey open its ports and airports to allow traffic from Cyprus. Turkey argues this will not happen until the EU has taken steps to end the Turkish Cypriot community’s isolation. Because of the issues surrounding Turkey and Cyprus, the EU’s relationship with Prime Minister Erdoğan, and Turkey itself, is becoming a tense one. Currently, Prime Minister Erdoǧan and EU Minister Egemen Bağış state that it is impossible for Turkey to cooperate with the EU if it allows Cyprus to hold the rotating EU Presidency status in late 2012. The Republic of Cyprus is not recognized by Turkey and Prime Minister Erdoğan declares that it is wrong for the EU to have admitted Cyprus into the European Union in the first place. The EU replied stating that Turkey’s statements about Cyprus were ‘offensive and arrogant’. Prime Minister Erdoğan warned the EU that if Cyprus is not reunited by next year, Turkey will ‘go it alone’. Prime Minister Erdoğan and EU Minister Bağış want the two states on Cyprus to be joined by a loose confederation.
Because of the issues between Turkey and Cyprus, and to a lesser extent, Greece, negotiations as of late have moved slower than EU Minister Bağış would like. In fact, to repair relations, the EU has asked Turkey to reopen the Halki Seminary 40 years after it was closed, as a symbolic gesture towards Greece. EU Minister Bağış stated that if Turkey reopens the Halki Seminary, Greece should reciprocate, noting that Turkey already granted 18 Greek Orthodox religious figures Turkish citizenship so that non-Muslim communities in Turkey can elect their own spiritual leaders. At the same time, Athens does not appear to have any cemeteries reserved for Muslims residents. EU Minister Bağış has made efforts to move Turkey towards EU accession, calling the new EU Ministry in Turkey the ‘country’s reform kitchen’, as reported by the Hurriyet Daily News.
EU Member States Divided on Turkish Accession
If the issues between Turkey and Cyprus aren’t enough, speculation and wariness among EU members on Turkey’s EU accession are also stalling the negotiations. Turkey is also well aware of the less than positive response in Europe towards its EU membership. Some countries, specifically France and Austria, stated they will hold referendums on whether to ratify Turkey’s accession treaty. In addition to France and Austria opposing Turkey’s membership, Cyprus, Denmark and Germany also make up a vocal opposition. The UK and Scandinavian countries do however support Turkey as a future member of the EU.
But even the UK is not wholly united. A panel of UK lawmakers from the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee reported in London that if Turkey joins the EU, there is concern regarding the increased border risks it may pose. Turkey is a key point for drug smuggling and people trafficking into the 27-nation EU bloc, and shares direct borders with Iran, Iraq, and Syria. The UK lawmakers stated that Turkey must demonstrate 'clearly and objectively' that it has met the EU standards for managing its borders.
With Turkey’s accession, many fear it will be even easier than before for migrants to cross into Europe, especially from Iran and Afghanistan. These concerns come at a time when many in Europe deal with illegal immigration issues, and with a land border between Turkey and Greece the potential for this entry point being used for illegal migration is significant. The House of Commons Committee did state however, that the potential benefits of allowing Turkey to join the EU would outweigh the risks. Aside from the argument that Turkey's culture is 'fundamentally different' from Europe', many in Europe see the Turkey-EU accession as helping the relationship between the West and the Muslim world.
The partnership between Turkey and the EU is an important one. The EU needs energy from Turkey, and Prime Minster Tayyip Erdoğan and EU Minister Egemen Bağış are hoping to boost this relationship by presenting Turkey as a country with European values. Today more than half of Turkey’s trade is with the EU. In exchange, EU FDI to Turkey reached almost 9 billion Euros in 2007.