07/26/2011, 00.00
TURKEY – CYPRUS – EU
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Crisis in the relationship between Erdogan and Europe

by NAT da Polis
Domestic and international factors are behind the Turkish leader’s decision to suspend cooperation with the European Union during the Cypriot presidency. Ankara wants to use its role as a powerful played in an energy-rich region.
Istanbul (AsiaNews) – The long relationship between Erdogan and the European Union is in crisis. The cause is the land of Aphrodite, the island of Cyprus. On a visit last week to mark the 37th anniversary of the Turkish invasion of the northern part of the republic of Cyprus, which led to the division of the country, Erdogan said it would be impossible for Turkey to cooperate with the future presidency of the European Union when it is led by Cyprus.

Even though the Republic of Cyprus is a member of the European Union, it is not recognised by Turkey. The prime minister said he would to suspend relations with the European Union irrespective of what Brussels might think. For him, the European Union was wrong to admit Cyprus. In fact, two states exist on the island that should be joined in a loose confederation that would preserve the identity and independence of each.

The European Union reacted promptly to Erdogan’s statement, calling his remarks offensive and arrogant because they attack the dignity of an EU member state. Sources in Brussels noted that, when Erdogan opened talks with the Union in order for Turkey to become a member, he accepted to respect and recognise the integrity of all EU member states.

Commenting Erdogan’s unfortunate statement, diplomatic sources said the prime minister’s own party, the AKP, was able to rout the old Turkish establishment because of its openness to negotiations with the European Union.

Erdogan’s words touch a number of issues. Whilst what he said is nothing new, they did cause strong reactions.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reminded Foreign Minister Davutoglu that United Nations decisions on Cyprus must be respected.

At the same, many prominent Turkish Cypriot figures have said Erdogan, or whoever is in power in Ankara, does speak on their behalf.

In fact, many Turkish Cypriots, who have become a minority in northern Cyprus because of large-scale immigration from Anatolia, are increasingly expressing their opposition to Ankara.

Restricted to the northern third of the island, they accuse Ankara of being insensitive towards them and their cultural and social heritage, as the island is being turned into a big casino for Islamic banking.

As any observer of Turkish affairs cannot fail to see, Turkish foreign policy has been shaped by a common theme, namely ‘pazarlik’, or deal making.

After the initial impetus, negotiations with the European Union have become bogged down because of reform fatigue (in diplomatic parlance). A lack of civil consciousness in Turkish society has also contributed to the problem. In view of this, Ankara has turned to ‘pazarlik’.

Knowing that the European Union needs energy from a region in which Turkey constitutes a natural point of transit, Ankara is trying to present itself as the main bearer of European values to the nations of that region. At the same time, it is boosting relations with other regional powers like Russia and Iran.

Even though Ankara is trying to meet the Copenhagen criteria, which are crucial for EU membership, it has accused the European Union of applying a double standard at its expense. and Cyprus is the right excuse.

For many analysts, Turkey is looking for new partners outside of Europe. This, at least, is what Turkish Foreign Minister Davutoglu is saying. As the architect of Turkey’s foreign policy, he has dismissed arguments such as cultural differences or the clash of civilisation, stressing instead different interests.

Domestic factors also play a role. Despite winning half of the popular vote in the last election, Erdogan does not have the necessary majority in parliament to change the constitution outright. For that purpose, he organised a referendum last September (which he had easily won) and called the 12 June elections.

By stroking national price, he hopes to get enough votes in parliament to push through his reforms. He also hopes to set the stage to become the next president once the mandate of President Gul ends. This way he can become the new Father of a nation with an enhanced status as a regional power.

Yet, the first signs of trouble are lurking on the horizon. The International Monetary Fund has in fact reported that Turkey’s trade deficit in the first five months of 2011 topped US$ 38 billion. Concurrently, its growth rate, forecast to be 11 per cent this year, has been revised downward at 8.7. Next year, it should drop even further.

In the end, as the saying goes, if you want to grasp all, you run the risk of losing all.
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