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Understandable toughness

July 20, 2011

The government in Ankara refuses to compromise over Cyprus, thereby risking a break with the EU. Baha Güngör, the head of DW's Turkish service, says the country has nothing to lose as its EU entry talks are stalled.


Turkey appears to have run out of patience when it comes to the question of Cyprus. On the 37th anniversary of the invasion of Northern Cyprus by Turkish troops, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it unmistakably clear that his country would categorically refuse any compromise. Once the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government takes over the rotating EU presidency in 2012, Erdogan said Turkey is determined to freeze its ties with the EU for this six-month period.

This Turkish toughness over the conflict in Cyprus might result in the EU feeling slighted and possibly responding in a similarly harsh manner. And yet Turkey's hard line deserves some understanding. Turkey has already endured too many disappointments in its relationship with the EU. Now, resulting from an increased self-confidence, Ankara is no longer prepared to play around when it comes to Cyprus.

The EU must also take responsibility for the ruins that the Cyprus problem has become. It's also no surprise that the first harsh reactions to Erdogan's speech, made in the northern part of Cyprus whose autonomy is recognized only by Turkey, have come from Germany. It was primarily Germany that pushed for Cyprus to be accepted into the EU before the territorial dispute had been solved. Berlin wanted to bend the rules to ensure that Greece would not carry out its threat of vetoing the EU's eastward expansion.

Surprising survey

Bahaeddin Güngör
Baha Güngör heads DW's Turkish language departmentImage: DW

Just two weeks before Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, a UN referendum was held on both sides of the island as part of the reunification plan of then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Turkish Cypriots voted overwhelmingly in favor of unifying the island. However, Greek Cypriots voted even more conclusively against such a move.

This result came as a surprise to the EU, as officials in Brussels had expected the opposite outcome. A reversed result would have enabled them to put pressure on Turkey and the northern segment of Cyprus and hold them responsible for the failure to find a permanent solution.

The EU was left with no other option but to welcome the internationally legitimized Greek segment of the island into the bloc, along with the other Eastern European candidates. The "compensation" offered in return for Turkey's goodwill including a number of promises for the northern part of Cyprus, such as an evaluation and possible loosening of the blockade against the region. The Turks are still waiting for these measures to be implemented.

Negotiations reach dead end

The conflict in Cyprus means that Turkey's own EU accession talks have basically reached a dead end. And so Turkey doesn't really have much to lose, even if the EU were to decide to break off entry talks altogether. But can the EU really afford, given the current geopolitical situation, to do without a loyal military and economic partner - even for a temporary six-month period? That's difficult to imagine.

Given that reunification is no longer likely after the emphatic "no" from the Greek side seven years ago, there can only be one solution for Cyprus. Namely to recognize both sides of the island as states, withdraw Turkish troops, and try to bring the two sides of Cyprus closer together with international support. Events in Cyprus since it gained independence as part of the London Agreement of 1959 show that the Turkish side can in no way be held solely accountable for Europe's Cypriot debacle.

Author: Baha Güngör / msh
Editor: Susan Houlton