September 30, 2011
The 1964 Association Agreement between the “European Economic Community” (EEC) and Turkey provided for the establishment of far-reaching economic cooperation, from a customs union to free movement of labour; in the preamble it also contained a reference to possible membership of what was at that time a union of modest ambitions and achievements.
The almost 40 years that have passed since were marked less by mutual confidence than by frictions and mutual recriminations. The EU has blamed Turkey for repeated violations of basic human rights and lack of democracy, while Turkey has been frustrated with the delays of time tables concerning the customs union and free movement of labour.
Since 1974, the Turkish military occupation of northern Cyprus and recurrent tensions between Turkey and Greece have constantly thrown shadows on EU-Turkey relations, especially since Greek EU-membership in 1981.
No surprise that it has taken until 1995 before the customs union was finalised and until 2005 before accession negotiations were opened. Free movement of labour and visa-free entry of Turkish of citizens continue to remain void hopes.
Accession negotiations have essentially come to a standstill on the unresolved issue of Cyprus: The non-recognition by Turkey of the Republic of Cyprus and Turkish military presence in northern Cyprus continue to be the stumbling blocks.
Since July 2011 tensions about Cyprus have reached a new climax, caused by the discovery of natural gas reserves in the Eastern Mediterranean, particularly in the economic zones of Israel, Lebanon and Cyprus. Cyprus has infuriated Turkey by concluding an agreement with Israel on the delimitation of their respective economic zones. The anger culminated in September 2011 with the government of the Republic of Cyprus deciding to start drilling for gas south-east of the island and the Turkish government threatening the use of military force to prevent this from happening and then concluding an agreement on the delimitation of the continental shelf with the government of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which since its creation in 1983 has not been recognised by any other country.
To make things even worse, Turkey has threatened to suspend relations with the European Union in July 2012 when the Republic of Cyprus will routinely take over the rotating EU Presidency, unless negotiations on the reunification of the island will have been successfully concluded by then, which seems very unlikely.
Turkey seems so sure of itself and eager to be the major political and economic player in the Middle East that it feels free to provoke the European Union and one its member countries. Through the way it has behaved in recent weeks it has put in jeopardy its bid for EU membership. It will be extremely difficult to heal the rift.
The continued military presence of some 30 00 Turkish soldiers and the illegal settlement of up to 150 000 citizens from Turkey in the northern part of Cyprus make it impossible for the EU to accept Turkey in its midst. Turkey has always considered Cyprus as a strategic defence of its sensitive southern coast; its military and economic presence there suits its ambitions as a regional power. Why should it abandon such a precious asset against an uncertain outcome of its bid for EU membership, even it may formally wish to pursue negotiations?
In conclusion, by September 2011 Turkish EU membership appears more distant and doubtful than ever. With its 70 million dynamic people Turkey feels strong enough to stand alone. As one of the booming economic powers on earth, member of OECD and G20, emulated as an example by Arab neighbours it considers EU membership no longer necessary for its economic development and politically more of burden than of benefit.
Conversely, in the EU institutions Turkey would constitute anything but a cosy partner to deal with. France and Germany have long felt this.
The best way out of this intractable situation would be to quietly wind down accession negotiations and establish a “privileged relationship”, the terms of which will have to be defined. For the time being, economic relations will continue to flourish based on the customs union which has led to close economic links.
But Turkey will never be a comfortable partner. EU-Turkey relations will continue to be marked by “Lows” and “Highs” as during the past decades. They will need enhanced care and sensitivity from both sides to keep them from derailing, which would not be in either interest.Author : Eberhard Rhein