November and December are important dates on the yearly calendar of events when it comes to relations between Ankara and Brussels. Each November the European Union executive, the European Commission, releases its annual progress report on the candidate country and in December a summit of EU leaders delivers the latest assessment of the year on the course of affairs regarding Turkey's membership process.
On both occasions, Brussels this year voiced appreciation for constitutional reforms carried out by the Turkish government as well as for increasing foreign policy activity by the government, while it also expressed “deep regret” over Turkey's failure to patch up relations with EU member Greek Cyprus and pressed Ankara to show improvement “without further delay.”
On each occasion, Ankara took the compliments with pleasure, yet was extremely defiant vis-à-vis the warnings on the Cyprus issue, particularly criticizing the wording of those warnings on Cyprus which it said were incompatible with international law.
Following the release of the progress report, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu reflected satisfaction on the overall content of the report; however, expressed disappointment, saying the report was “not fair on Cyprus.”
“Both Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus [KKTC] have assumed an extremely flexible and determined policy. Turkey has always done its part,” he said, in an apparent reference to the fact that the report indicated that Turkey should now turn its “public” support for UN-led negotiations in Cyprus to “active” support.
In early December, following an annual debate on enlargement held by EU states, Ankara was angered by the insistence of EU foreign ministers that Turkey “actively support” ongoing Cyprus negotiations. While doing this, EU ministers stressed that such support was required as “emphasized by the negotiating framework” document setting out the principles governing membership negotiations between Turkey and the 27-nation bloc.
“Recalling that negotiations have reached a more demanding stage, the council notes that Turkey will be able to accelerate the pace of negotiations by advancing in the fulfillment of benchmarks, meeting the requirements of the negotiating framework and by respecting its contractual obligations towards the EU,” the ministers said.
Under a customs agreement with the EU, Turkey must extend its trade protocol to the 10 nations that joined the bloc in 2004, including Greek Cyprus. But Turkey does not recognize the Greek Cypriot government and refuses to open its ports to it unless the EU makes good on a promise to break the economic isolation of Turkish Cypriots. In July 2005, while signing the Ankara Protocol extending its customs union to the then-new member states of the EU, Turkey at the same time issued a declaration saying that its signature did not mean it had recognized the Greek Cypriot administration.
In fact, message by the EU ministers carefully mixed praise and criticism towards Ankara and in this regard was broadly similar to that of 2009. “Recognizing that last year we said the same things, you can also say that it is [about] coherence,” Belgian Foreign Minister Steven Vanackere responded when asked whether such similarity was a symptom of stagnation in the EU-Turkish relationship.
The Belgian term at the helm of the EU closed without being able to open a new negotiation chapter, while there are only three chapters -- out of the total 35 policy areas into which the membership talks with the EU have been divided -- that are currently available to be opened.
During the first six months of 2010, when Spain was the rotating president of the 27-nation bloc, only one new negotiation chapter was opened -- and only a day before Spain handed over the presidency to Belgium on July 1.
First New York, then Geneva
Ankara still maintains its position that a solution to the Cyprus issue should be found under the UN roof, yet it also strongly argues that the EU needs to pressure Greek Cypriots because “Greek Cypriots are confident that they will lose nothing by blocking Turkey's membership bid.”
A senior Turkish diplomat remarked, “However, the losing party will not be Turkey if its membership bid is stalled, it will be the EU.”
In New York earlier this month, echoing Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's uneasiness at the slow pace of negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders, the UN Security Council called on the leaders to intensify the momentum of these negotiations.
The UN Security Council, meanwhile, welcomed Ban's efforts to stimulate progress during his meeting with Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu at the UN headquarters on Nov. 18.
During that meeting, Ban said the rival leaders recognized the need to move more quickly and decisively to reach agreement on a reunification plan. They agreed to meet with the secretary-general at the end of January in Geneva and Ban said he would submit an updated assessment of progress to the UN Security Council in February.