- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 13, 2005

GENEVA — The European Union, beset by a constitutional crisis, is faced with diplomatic difficulties over Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Greek Cypriot government in Cyprus.

The Turkish position threatens to delay its planned EU accession talks and could harm Turkey’s candidacy, at the same time affecting the union’s fragile consensus on the delicate issue of Muslim Turkey’s European credentials.

EU foreign ministers are to meet in London to mull over Turkey’s categorical rejection of any form of pressure over Cyprus, divided between its Turkish and Greek ethnic communities.

The issue became primary after a statement by French President Jacques Chirac that “it is impossible to open negotiations with a country which does not recognize one of the Union’s members.”

He was echoed by the Greek government, backer of the Greek Cypriot administration, which declared that Turkey’s refusal “is a contradiction and a political and institutional paradox.”

But EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said last week that Turkish recognition of the Greek Cypriot government was not a condition for the beginning of accession talks. Mr. Rehn added that he was “reasonably confident” that talks would begin on Oct. 3 as scheduled.

Mr. Chirac’s statement surprised Turkey, particularly in view of his previous commitment for Turkey’s EU membership. Diplomats believe that Mr. Chirac, weakened by the French defeat of the European constitution project, is bowing to popular pressure.

The French rejection of the EU constitution in a referendum on May 29, is largely blamed on the widespread belief that the charter would pave the way for Turkey’s entry. Mr. Chirac reported also is concerned by the fact that his main power base, the Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party, officially opposes Turkey’s EU membership.

A similar attitude is reflected in opinion polls across Europe although the “political classes” in most countries favor Turkey’s candidacy.

Turkey has remained officially unperturbed by diplomatic broadsides and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared firmly, “Our position [on Cyprus] will never change.”

Although Turkey has signed a protocol that extends its customs agreement to the 10 recently admitted EU members, including Cyprus, it claims that this approval does not imply recognition of the Greek Cypriot administration.

Turkey considers the government, headed by President Tassos Papadopoulos, to be a longtime oppressor of the Turkish Cypriot minority on the East Mediterranean island.

The Greek Cypriot government controls 63 percent of the territory of Cyprus, with the rest held by the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Turkey and protected by its expeditionary corps.

In April 2004, the Turkish government agreed to a United Nations-sponsored referendum on a project that would have joined Cyprus in a bizonal confederation. The project was defeated by the Greek Cypriots.

The problem of Cyprus has defied international diplomacy for the past 31 years, ever since the Turkish army, in answer to a Greek coup aimed at linking Cyprus with Greece, carved out an area along the island’s scenic northern coast. The Turkish Cypriot minority was resettled there during recriminations and a Greek Cypriot economic embargo.

So far, all efforts to bring the feuding communities together have failed.

Some diplomats consider the admission of Cyprus to the European Union without the Turkish Cypriots a major mistake, precluding rather than fostering a solution to the island’s division. Now the proverbial Cypriot “can of worms” appears to threaten Turkey’s European aspirations.

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