A Message to Ankara: Open Up to Free Trade (or Forget Europe)

A Message to Ankara: Open Up to Free Trade (or Forget Europe)

On Wednesday 8 November, the European Commission recommended that the Turkish membership talks proceed through to the end of the year. But, how long should the Turkish EU membership talks last? Given the embarrassingly weighty opposition and the lack of serious commitment by any other EU member state to fully back the Turkish government, why are the discussions still set to continue? Since Turkey shows little willingness to embrace the free exchange of ideas (opposed by Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code) or free exchange of labour (opposed by closure of airports to Greek Cypriots) or free exchange of trade (opposed by breaking the customs union agreement), why have European states not walked away from the negotiation table before now?

The day should have been up for Turkey since it does not seem ready to open its doors to Cyprus. After a year or negotiations, it continues to block off trade with Cyprus. In the past few days, the EU was expected to have called a judgement on whether Turkish membership talks should halted based on the resistance to trade with Cyprus. The publicly evasive EU has now moved that judgement day until December, when the European Council are due to meet. 

So, the laboured Turkish membership discussions are still continuing. Despite resistance from Turkey to amend any of its current legislation, the EU is ploughing on with the membership talks. With Turkey still blocking airports and ports to Greek Cypriots, offering no reform of Article 301 (currently a major curb to free expression), and a stagnancy on amending human and property rights standards, the Finnish presidency has been desperately attempting to patch together a diplomatic deal.

However, since Turkey refuses to recognise the importance of its opposition to Cypriot trade, it is likely that the talks will lead nowhere. In fact, even the European Union itself sees the opening up of ports (and airports) as a necessary condition for talks to continue, as well as handing over small Northern Cypriot territories to UN and EU administrations. Accordingly, the German chancellor, Angela Merkel warned that if Turkey could not address the Cypriot trade issue, the talks would prove worthless.

“We need the implementation of Ankara protocol on the freedom of movement of goods also with Cyprus. Otherwise, a very, very serious situation arises regarding the continuation of the accession talks […] I appeal to Turkey that it does everything in order not to end up in such a situation and in order not to lead the European Union into such a situation” said Merkel.

It is time for Turkey to make things happen on Cypriot trade, or to forget the European talks. More to the point, it is urgent that the German-Finnish-EU triad issues an ultimatum – ‘open up to free trade or leave the talks.’ What’s more, it would be a perfect occasion on which to offer this advice. Given this situation, what did the EU choose to do? The European Commission has chosen to extend the meaningless discussions until the end of this year.

On Thursday 2 November, the next-step Turkish EU membership talks were cancelled. The Greeks would not attend. In reaction to the perceived absence of the Greeks, the Turkish refused to attend. Whatever the reason, these talks are long overdue and the absence of Cyprus from the negotiation table is completely understandable. It must be extremely difficult for Cyprus since, in the background, the Greek Cypriots are the legitimate heirs of the island of Cyprus; the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is nothing but an illegitimate rabble of Ottoman henchmen.

From the position of Greek Cypriots, it would be pointless to attend another set of talks with Turkey if it cannot open up ports to Greek Cypriots in addition to settling disagreements on Turkish ownership over Greek Cypriot land. (The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is still not internationally recognized precisely because of its illegitimacy following the invasion of Cyprus). Thus, it is notable that Cyprus probably will continue to refuse to turn up to meaningless talks with Turkey since nothing of any substance is being said.   

Of course, when the European Council sit in December, they are unlikely to say anything of significance. By shifting the goalposts forward, the EU will be as evasive as ever in making any firm and substantial rejection. The EU Finnish presidency calls it ‘diplomacy’; most others call it fraud. Sure, Rome was not built in a day but I’m positive that the first brick of Rome was laid within the first year of its founding.

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