- The Washington Times - Monday, December 18, 2006

Last week, the European Union decided to slow its accession talks with Turkey, further proving its status as the champion of delaying big decisions. If EU leaders and the European people conclude that Turkey is not part of European history, culture and geography, and that it is hopeless to expect a majority Muslim nation to exist in concert with Western-style democracy, Turkey will have invested in a four-decade process to no avail.

“Human rights, minority rights, women’s rights, freedom of speech — those are the issues that go to the heart of Turkey’s compatibility with the European Union,” Joost Lagendijk, the chairman of the EU’s Joint Parliamentary Committee with Turkey, said recently. Those are precisely the reasons that a majority of the Turks once strongly supported EU membership. At one time, the possibility of EU membership meant nothing but a better future. But as Mr. Lagendijk said, “The Cyprus issue has distracted from the fundamental issues.” Now, the talk in Turkey has turned against the EU membership which equates to national humiliation nowadays.

Last Monday, EU foreign ministers suspended eight of 35 “chapters” in Turkey’s accession negotiations all directly related to Turkey not opening its air and sea ports to Greek Cyprus. Turkey agreed to extend the Customs Union agreement to all new EU members so it could begin talks. EU leaders say that Turkey opening its ports does not equal recognition of Greek Cyprus; they even allowed the Turkish government to release a written statement to that effect, but that’s just semantics. Turkey saw the political trap, yet kept its faith that the EU would honor its verbal commitment to lift the economic blockade of Turkish Cyprus. The EU decided to admit only Greek Cyprus in May 2004, a month after Turkish Cypriots to unite the island and Greek Cypriots refused.

In Turkey’s domestic politics, the Justice and Development Party-ruled government made a major mistake in accepting the EU’s verbal commitment to the Turkish Cypriots. Turkey, however,should be mature enough to admit that not only the current prime minister made mistakes. If Recep Tayyip Erdogan were to stand firm against the EU and not allow the accession talks to proceed, the so-called secular, “liberal” political faction would accuse him of having a hidden agenda, favoring a change from a secular to an Islamic regime.

And on that note, even the Turkish military has been fooled by verbal commitments. Greece withdrew from NATO’s military command structure in 1974 as a result of Greco-Turkish tensions when Turkey intervened on the island. Greek forces were readmitted in 1980, with Turkish cooperation — aided by Kenan Evren, Turkey’s seventh president, who came to power by military coup in 1980. Mr. Evren knew Greece was nearing the end of the process to become a full EU member. The story goes that Mr. Evren got a verbal promise from the EU that Greece’s membership would not create an obstacle regarding Cyprus, and he was told that he should not obstruct Greece’s return to NATO. With numerous other examples, Turkey should have learned then that verbal agreements mean little.

Now, the EU says Turkey is at fault in not opening its ports to Greek Cyprus via the Customs Union agreement, and cites that decisionas a reason that accession talks have begun falling apart. The EU’s decision represents a “lack of vision,” says Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul. Mr. Erdogan has said that the relationship between Turkey and the EU is “going through a serious test, despite all our efforts.” But he summed up the situation even better when he said, “This decision is unfair to Turkey.” It is true. The Turkish people, however, should also demand that their government and their bureaucrats do better, and not leave this issue to devolve into an emotional semantic fight. Turkey could have prepared a full report on every legal violation that has occurred in agreements that the EU and Greek Cyprus are obligatory to “the rule of law.” It would be nice if Turkey could have brought “publicly” to the table proof of the legal violations committed by the EU member Greek Cyprus government.

It would be even more meaningful to see how many articles of its own constitution it violates, for example. Furthermore, Protocol 10 of Greek Cyprus’ accession agreement with the EU states that all Cypriots should benefit from EU membership. According to Article 3 of Protocol 10, “Nothing in this Protocol shall preclude measures with a view to promoting the economic development of the areas referred to in Article 1.” Yet the EU still questions the legality of direct flights to Northern Cyprus in which its economy is dependent on tourism.

What happened to the guarantor agreement, which stated that Cyprus cannot join political and economic institutions unless all the guarantor states are members? Turkey believed the claim that Cyprus would not be an obstacle to its EU membership. But it did indeed turn out to be a big stumbling block. Is this really the Western values that we should believe in?

In the end, it is not about whether or not Turkey joins the EU; it’s now about what exactly we mean when we talk about “Western values.”

Tulin Daloglu is a free-lance writer.

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