Talking Turkey

Will Continuing Problems With Cyprus Mean a Collapse of Negotiations

The obstacle blocking the tracks had been spotted even before the train pulled belatedly away from the station. Turkey’s accession negotiations were barely into their second of an expected ten to 15 year journey when the train suddenly stopped. Not derailed just yet, as some had anticipated or even hoped, but left hanging, in a state of suspended animation. Cyprus, it seemed, was in the way.

The thing is, Turkey’s accession to the EU is by no means a sure thing. Although only eight of the 35 areas of negotiation, or “chapters,” have been suspended – and not the ten that Austria would have put on ice, nor Germany’s hefty 21– they are still eight sensitive and difficult ones. And once a chapter has been frozen, it requires a unanimous vote of all EU members before it can be reactivated. Furthermore, two countries have already stated their intention to hold a referendum, regardless of whether or not Turkey fulfils the criteria. France, for one, would feel constitutionally obligated. And Austria, as the other, it seems, simply believes it’s the right thing to do.

The reasons for the suspension may well be justified, including a troubling list of human rights issues and Turkey’s continuing refusal to open her ports to the south of Cyprus, as agreed. Still, it was the Greek Cypriots, after all, that rejected the UN reunification plan. And Turkey did eventually open one port and one airport to Greek-Cypriot trade as a gesture toward compromise.

However, bureaucratic reasons aside, why gamble Turkey’s accession on popular vote? Paris does have its recently amended constitution, but in Vienna, it’s not quite so clear-cut. Concerns over a possible flood of migrants have been put forward. However, these concerns are misplaced. As a country with a falling birth rate and aging population, youthful immigration is an economic necessity. Cultural differences have also been mentioned as a problem. But the Turkish Diaspora is already well represented in Vienna, whose population of 1.7 million includes some 48,000 of Turkish descent, Europe already includes a broad spectrum of cultures, and is Turkey really so much more different from, say, Italy, than Italy is from Estonia?

Nonetheless, Turkey’s eventual accession to a community of almost 500 million people could conceivably hinge on a few votes cast in Tyrol, Burgenland or Carinthia.

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