Egemen Bağış, state minister and Turkey’s chief EU negotiator, was speaking to a small group of journalists on board a plane late on Monday as he was traveling to Stockholm, Sweden, which will hold the rotating EU presidency until January. Noting that he did not expect any negative outcome from the EU summit, scheduled for Dec. 10-11, Bağış said EU leaders must be aware of the fact that Turkey and Turkish Cypriots have always assumed a stance in favor of a resolution of the Cyprus issue.
“An opportunity for resolution should be given until April -- the end of [Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali] Talat’s term,” Bağış said.
Talat and Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias broke a four-year stalemate on talks in March 2008 and have been engaged in face-to-face negotiations with the goal of reunifying the island. Previous reunification efforts in Cyprus collapsed in 2004 when the Greek Cypriots rejected a settlement blueprint drafted by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, while the Turkish Cypriots approved it.
Talat hopes the talks will produce a deal by the end of the year so that it can be put to a referendum on both sides of the island by early 2010, before the presidential elections in Turkish Cyprus. “If the EU makes a decision that will exclude Turkey with a population of 70 million just to appease 600,000 Greek Cypriots; if it chooses to exclude the young population in Turkey, which transports 70 percent of [the EU’s] energy demand; if it makes a decision that ignores its ally, which has the second-largest army in NATO and which is the most important supporter of EU’s fight against drugs and terrorism; then Turkey will also review its own situation,” Bağış said. “We will continue on our path without EU membership, which is not a sine qua non for us,” he added.
As a matter of fact, the European Council has already punished Ankara by freezing in 2006 accession talks on eight of 35 policy areas that candidates must complete, while noting that it would review the situation at the end of 2009.
Turkey refuses to allow Greek Cypriot vessels to use its air and sea ports under a customs union pact with the bloc on the grounds that the EU has failed to keep promises to ease the international isolation of the Turkish Cypriots. Ankara does not recognize the Greek Cypriot government, which entered the EU in May 2004 as the official representative of the entire island after the Greek Cypriots in the south rejected the UN reunification plan in twin referendums held in 2004. In a newspaper interview last month, Christofias hinted his country might seek more sanctions against Turkey at the December summit.
No guess game on date of EU entry
When reminded of recent remarks by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who said he imagined an EU member Turkey in 2023, when the country marks the 100th anniversary of its foundation, Bağış said he interpreted Davutoğlu’s remarks as “Turkey will become a member before 2023.” “I’ve been state minister and chief negotiator for 11 months. So far, I have never guessed about the [entry] year and I do not believe that it is right to make such guesses. The EU is a political project. Just as 18 million East Germans became EU citizens overnight due to the political climate at the time, Turkey will also become an EU member when the political situation is right,” Bağış added.
In a recent interview with the Newsweek journal, Davutoğlu was asked where he sees himself and Turkey in 10 years. “I see a country that has managed to start economic integration and has solid relations with all its neighbors. I also see a country that has become a member of the EU. I see a Turkey which keeps an effective role within NATO and which is also a key player not only in security-related fields but also in economic organizations such as the G-20. I do not think these objectives are unreachable by the year 2023, the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic, 14 years from now,” Davutoğlu responded.
Speaking to reporters in the western Anatolian province of Afyonkarahisar on Monday while on vacation with his family on the last day of Eid al-Adha, Davutoğlu made clear that his remarks were not meant to suggest that Turkey would wait until 2023 to become an EU member.
“We said there [in the interview] that [EU] membership will have already been achieved by 2023. This did not mean waiting until 2023 nor ‘let’s become a member in 2023’; we believe this membership will happen much earlier [than 2023],” Davutoğlu elaborated.
Bağış, meanwhile, complained of a lack of support by opposition parties in Parliament during government’s efforts to adopt laws which would ensure compliance with EU standards in several fields. EU membership should not be considered a “ruling party project,” Bağış said, calling on all opposition members to cooperate with the government. “The EU is a joint prospect of all of us. The EU is the common ground for extreme-liberals, extreme-statists, those who fear another military coup d’état and those who believe that there is a threat against the regime,” the minister said.