Wednesday, December 22, 2004

ANKARA, Turkey. — It was, no doubt, the longest date in the making. It took Turkey 41 years of petitioning, courting and cajoling the European Union to finally be granted a date. Now they have one, but it’s not until Oct. 3, 2005.

Negotiations regarding Turkey’s full membership into the EU are scheduled to start then. However, the long-anticipated date may yet be upset by last-minute problems.

Between now and next October, and between October and the day Turkey is to be granted full membership — probably 10-15 years hence — a great many roads will need to be crossed. And Turkey, as well as the EU, can expect roadblocks along the way.

The first of these problems is Cyprus, ironically where Aphrodite, the goddess of love was born, according to Greek mythology.

The small island in the eastern Mediterranean was invaded by Turkish troops in 1974. Turkey will argue that it was not an “invasion” but rather an “intervention” with the intention of saving the island’s Turkish population.

Following a coup d’etat that saw Nicos Sampson, a small-time thug propelled to the office of the president by the right-wing colonels who ruled over Greece at the time, Turkey, and the island’s Turkish population, feared that Athens would opt for “enosis,” or unification of the island with Greece.

Turkey invaded, or intervened, depending how you look at it, and Turkish troops are still there 31 years later. And 31 years later the island remains divided. Now it has emerged as a thorn that could radically complicate the Turkey-EU parlays.

The southern half, the Greek Cypriot side of the island, is the only government recognized by the international community as legitimate. It was granted full membership into the EU in 2004. And as such, it holds the power to veto any new members.

The Turkish northern part, officially known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, is recognized only by Ankara.

Brussels is asking that Turkey extend its existing protocol with the EU-15 to include the 10 newest members. This would mean a de facto recognition of Nicosia, something Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is reluctant to do.

Brussels argues that it would be somewhat awkward for an EU member to refuse recognition of a fellow EU member. However, officials in Brussels say they are confident that Turkey would offer a blanket extension of its existing pact to the bloc’s newcomers. Such a move would automatically include Cyprus without Turkey having to actually mention it by name.

The EU missed an opportune moment to force a solution of the Cyprus problem when it admitted the southern half, instead of insisting on a united Cyprus. Turkey has previously said it would recognize Cyprus only through a U.N. peace plan — that became known as the Anan peace plan — and that would have seen reunification of the two ethnically divided communities.

The island voted by referendum last April; the Turkish side accepted the U.N. plan but the Greek Cypriots rejected it.

The second potential snag in the EU-Turkey talks is the issue of permanent migration safeguards, a clause on which some European countries might insist. Countries that have traditionally attracted Turkish immigration — such as Germany — might like to include language in Turkey’s invitation that would deter a potential wave of migration westward.

Pass in front of any West European consulate in Ankara, and dozens, if not hundreds, of people can be seen queuing up in the hope of obtaining a cherished visa that will offer them a better life in the EU. Those queues are there even in sub-zero temperatures and in the middle of the night. Without visa restrictions, these applicants and thousands of others, it is feared, would head West.

Turkey says any restrictions would stand it apart in the EU and would be “discriminatory.”

That Turkey wants into the EU is certain, but, writes Turker Alkan in Radikal, a left-wing newspaper, it will not be the end of the world. “We won’t just break up in sorrow if we don’t become a member,” Mr. Alkan said. He reminds his readers that when former Prime Minister Ismet Inonu disagreed with the United States, he said that a “new world will be established and Turkey will take its part in it.” Mr. Alkan points out that this time, if the EU turns Turkey down, “we will just have to turn to other options.”

Turkey sits on some prime real estate. The other options would include its neighbors — the Arab world, Iran, Russia, the Caucasian countries, the former Soviet republics and the eastern Mediterranean. Europe knows this, and realizes that it is to its advantage as much as to Turkey’s to work out the problems.

And finally, assuming the first two points are solvable, Turkey would have liked an earlier date by which to begin negotiations — April instead of October. Then again, the date is the most trivial of the three issues. As wrote Mehmet Ali Birand in the Turkish Daily News, “The start of the negotiations in 2005 is a clear date. It is of no practical importance whether the date is in the first half or the second half of 2005.”

The important thing is that Turkey finally got its date. “Today will be a good day for Turkey,” wrote Mr. Birand. And it should also be a good date for Europe.

Claude Salhani is a senior editor with United Press International.

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