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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Turkish-German row over Cyprus

German PM Angela Merkel criticized the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot leaderships during a trip to the Cypriot capital of Nicosia Tuesday. Praising Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias for his efforts, she chided the Turkish side for not reciprocating.

Unsurprisingly, reactions in Nicosia were as delighted as the Turkish response was angry. According to, the Politis newspaper (whose headline was an exuberant "Angela! Angela!") reported that Merkel's remarks "made President Christofias smile." The Fileleftheros noted that "She didn't mince her words," while the communist party organ, Xaravgi, exclaimed: "We Support You."

Ergoğan, for his part, did not mince his words in responding to Merkel:
I guess Ms. Merkel has forgotten what she has said. It was herself who said that it was wrong to admit southern Cyprus into the European Union. It is also clear that she does not know about history of the Cyprus issue.
It is hard to tell what, if anything this row means for the stalled negotiations but it is unlikely to help. Cyprus is undoubtedly a central obstacle to further progress, albeit not the only one. Nonetheless, my sense is that it is now largely up to Turkey to take some decisive steps toward a resolution - irrespective of the history or who is to blame for the current situation. The obvious matter to be resolved by Ankara being the implementation of the Additional Protocol of the Turkey-EU Association Agreement (ending the blockade of Greek Cypriot ships in Turkish ports).

On the other hand, for Turkey to do so, it needs some reassurances from the EU that the 2004 debacle referred to by Erdoğan in the above quote - in which Turkish rapprochement was greeted with what turned out to be a severe blow to Turkey's future prospects of EU membership (by effectively granting Greek Cyprus as an EU member a veto right on Turkey's accession). I am not familiar with the behind-the-scenes details of the current negotiations, but IF the EU is interested in moving negotiations with Turkey forward - and I will argue below that this is a big, open, caveat - then it needs to come up with some way of reassuring Turkey. One obvious choice would be to put pressure on Cyprus to stop freezing assistance to Turkey and agree to end the isolation of Northern Cyprus simultaneously with a Turkish agreement to implement the Additional Protocol.

In the midst of this confusion about who did what first and who should do what first, one thing that can be said with some degree of conviction was said a year ago by Ragan Updegraff on the Turkey in Action blog, and it bears repeating:
If Europe is serious about Turkish membership and a united Cyprus, lecturing Turkey without acknowledging past mistakes or the history of the conflict is not helpful. 
In Merkel's case, however, she is clearly not "serious about Turkish EU membership." For her, the current tussle seems to be a win-win situation: Her remarks can play well with a dual domestic audience - Germans who oppose Turkey's EU membership for 'cultural' reasons, and those critical of Turkey's occupation of Northern Cyprus - without her having to be overly concerned about alienating a Turkey whose membership neither she nor a large domestic constituency of hers desire.

Regardless of the merits of her remarks, therefore, they are unlikely to be constructive in prodding Turkey along towards further concessions.

1 comment:

  1. I would comment but you can probably guess what I'd say so I'll refrain :-)


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