ANKARA: A happy ending for all

A happy ending for all
By Burak Bekdil

Turkish Daily News
Dec 21 2004

TDN – Everyone looked like a winner after Friday’s historic EU summit.
If there was a genuine winner, though, it was “diplomacy.” How
could, otherwise, the final statement please Tassos Papadopoulos and
Rauf Denktas at the same time? How could it be possible, without
a skillfully crafted wording, to please Ankara, Athens, Brussels,
Berlin, Paris, London, Vienna, Rome, Copenhagen, Washington, the Arab
capitals and probably half of the other hemisphere?

The final statement is like a fairy tale: a happy ending for all. On
Friday Istanbul’s stock market closed at an all-time high. The next
day, thousands of Turks, waving Turkish and EU flags, took to the
streets to welcome the “Conqueror of Europe,” their prime minister,
in scenes perhaps too grotesque for a celebration Europeen. Probably
few in the chanting crowd knew what was there to celebrate.

Mr. Denktas, the Turkish Cypriot leader, thanked Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan for not “selling out the Turkish Cypriots” and for
“standing firm in his bargaining with the Europeans.” A few miles
to the south, Greek Cypriot leader Papadopoulos remained confident
that the strings attached to Oct. 3 would automatically guarantee
what he wanted.

No doubt, after over 40 years in the EU’s waiting room, a date for the
start of formal entry talks is a victory. But the strings attached
to the much-wanted date may put off the start of talks, suspend it,
or even if the talks open, membership may never take place, and even
if Turkey eventually joins the club, it may only get a second-grade

The trouble is, the Turks only want the gains from membership and not
the drains. They are not and probably will not be prepared to give
up the sacred sovereignty that does not fit into the club rules. For
example, different crowds with different intentions will probably
take to the streets when Turkey will be required to negotiate with the
Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), or ponder autonomy for the Kurds, or
recognize the so-called Armenian genocide, or agree to not-so-favorable
conditions as for the Aegean territorial disputes with Greece.

Not only that, but, for the time being, the Turks are shrugging off
the possibility of permanent safeguards restricting the free movement
of Turkish workers and Turkish access to EU regional funds and farm
subsidies. But such discriminatory terms and conditions that violate
EU law will be real explosives as talks mature.

It is perhaps too early to sit down and ponder. Inevitably, by the
time Turkey joins the EU there will be a much different EU and a much
different Turkey. For example, a falling birthrate across the EU means
a shrinking and ageing population, raising the specter that there will
not be enough workers to pay for increasingly burdened pension systems.

In contrast, Turkey’s population is young and on the rise (about 80
million by 2015, with more than two-thirds under 35 years of age).
Demographics per se can change the terms and conditions of Turkish
entry in the future. But the shorter-term problem will be, once
again, Cyprus.

On Dec. 17 Turkey pledged to extend its 1963 Association Agreement with
the then EEC, known as the Ankara Protocol, to 10 new member states
including Cyprus, before the start of accession talks – a de facto
recognition by Ankara of Cyprus. On the other hand, Mr. Erdogan has
repeatedly said that Turkey would not recognize Cyprus, directly or
indirectly, until there is a comprehensive settlement on the divided
island. In nine months’ time, it will be extremely difficult for
Mr. Erdogan to keep both promises.

Mr. Papadopoulos has a point when he says that no one can object if
Cyprus vetoes the start of membership talks with Turkey on Oct. 3 if
Turkey does not recognize Cyprus. How will it be possible for Mr.
Erdogan to overcome a likely Cypriot veto without causing dust and
storms in his homeland?

The immediate answer is a return to the U.N.-sponsored table for a
fresh round of negotiations. But will the Greek Cypriots have any
genuine reason to “share sovereignty” with their one-time neighbors
when the slow-fuse time bomb clicks for Ankara?

Obviously, Mr. Erdogan will sweat a lot next summer when he has
to explain to millions of dubious Turks that the extension of the
Ankara Protocol to Cyprus and nine other member states will not mean
recognition. Alternatively, his government may try to extend the
protocol “with an acknowledgement of the division of Cyprus,” but,
again, that will probably fail to block a Cypriot veto.

Of course, there is going to be a massive media campaign in Turkey
in the run-up to October, and in favor of the start of talks “despite
all,” but that may be politically costly for Mr. Erdogan’s government.

On Saturday, the Conqueror of Europe was probably wearing one of his
last smiles over EU affairs. He successfully tackled the easy part of
a long journey. But the far more difficult part remains ahead. Once
again, Cyprus stands in the way between Ankara and Brussels. The
summit has not resolved the dispute but has put it on ice for another
nine months.


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