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Home » Cyprus EU Presidency, Focus

Turkey is the Question: Is the way to peace via Brussels?

Submitted by on 19 Apr 2012 – 12:37

By Marilena Koppa MEP, Vice-Chair, European Parliament Delegation to the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee

Let us begin with the facts:

  1. In June 2011 Turkey threatened Cyprus with military action, if Nicosia went forward with drilling for natural gas operations in its territorial waters; the threat did not materialize, but it remains on the table.
  2. In September Turkey threatened to freeze relations with the EU, if Nicosia assumes the Presidency which, incidentally, is unavoidable. We do not know if this threat will materialize, but it is not unlikely.

However, in a recent visit to London, President Gul told the press that Turkey still wants to become a member of the EU. In this scheme, it is hard to assess whether Ankara is truly preparing for a historic encounter.

Clearly, as the EU is suffering from an unprecedented economic and political crisis, the vision of EU membership is dimming in Ankara. Turkey is instead contemplating the vision of a Regional Power, where multilateral engagement does not fit the picture. For instance, one might have hailed Ankara’s recent commitment to participate in ‘international military action in Syria,’ if this were to take place for the protection of civilians. However, it is clear that Turkey did not choose to test its muscle in regional politics in order to serve a human rights agenda. If that were the case, relations between Damascus and Ankara would not be as flourishing as they had been until recently. But, the message that Ankara wants to pass is clear: “nothing happens in this region without Turkish involvement.”

The Turkish commitment to European integration is thus fading. And Cyprus is not the main stumbling bloc, although it has become the most emblematic of obstacles. The fact of the matter is that France and Germany, amongst other EU member states, have time and again declared their preference to a ‘strategic partnership’ framing of the relationship. In the past, numerous political arguments were tabled as the main reason: wide regional disparities, the assumed burden in European Structural Funds, or even the sheer size of Turkey with a population of 70 million and growing. There were also of course islamophobic and other racist arguments, particularly from the European right, informing the ‘strategic partnership’ discourse.

Now the tables seem to be turning. Undeniably, Turkey values its relationship with the EU. Its ambition to emerge as an ‘energy hub,’ would be simply meaningless without reference to the European market. Moreover, the EU remains a significant trade partner and source of FDI. However, it is clear that Turkey now envisions itself as capable of having a more ‘balanced’ relationship with Brussels, one that is not founded on the acquis, but on a balance of interests.


In this scheme, the Cyprus question has emerged as a convenient scapegoat-issue to derail the enlargement agenda. The European right can use it as a poster-issue, hiding its true agenda, which is the satisfaction of a constituency whose image of Turkey springs, primarily, from the Turkish migrants residing in the poor neighborhoods of major European metropolis. In Turkey as well, waiving the patriotic flag is essential for a government eager to demonstrate its patriotic credentials to a constituency that has for long been used to see the army as a ‘guarantor of the Constitution.’

However, it is doubtful that this emblematic use of the Cyprus question is serving either Greece or Cyprus. From Athens to Nicosia, we have harbored for nearly a generation the idea that Ankara’s bid for EU membership is an opportunity for conflict-resolution; this assumption is a central pillar of Greek and Cypriot foreign policy, despite differences in tactics that are natural for successive administrations. Now, this pillar appears to be shaking and trembling.

If Turkey goes through and fulfills its threat to freeze relations with the EU, there are many who fear that it will gradually also liberate itself from the taboo of cutting off bridges with the EU. If this were to happen, then the Eastern Mediterranean will become an even more unstable region. For the “Pax Ottomanica” vision that certain parts of the Turkish administration harbor, stands for Ottoman ‘order,’ not ‘peace.’ The ever more apparent willingness, or even ambition, that Turkey has demonstrated in using military force, points more to a si vis pacem, para bellum approach to security rather than concerted and multilateral action.

Let us make no mistake. If, come 2012, relations between Brussels and Ankara freeze, this will not be a parenthesis in our diplomatic relations. It will be a moment of truth, requiring the attention Athens, Nicosia and Brussels. To be blunt, neither the EU nor for that matter NATO are security providers when it comes to intra-member relations. Atlantic mediation has in the past served to balance regional security challenges; but as Washington’s relations with Ankara are not at their peak, there are justifiable fears that this is not a precedent we can count upon. So the question at hand is ‘if the way to permanent and durable peace does not go through Brussels, how does one secure peace?’ And if we move towards a balance of power paradigm, how far have we ‘progressed’ since the beginning of our European journey which, incidentally, was all about conflict resolution?