The EU Must Start Negotiations with Turkey

On December 17 of last year, the European Council decided to open accession negotiations with Turkey this October. Two conditions were put to the Turkish government: a comprehensive legal reform aimed at reinforcing the rule of law and human rights, and approval of the Adaptation Protocol of the Ankara Agreement, which extends the customs union with the EU to all new member states, including the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey has met these conditions: the legal reform entered into force on June 1, and the Protocol was signed on July 29.

A formal recognition by Turkey of the Republic of Cyprus, including its extension to the Northern part of the island, was not requested as a precondition for starting accession talks. This is a complex matter related to the efforts by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to negotiate a comprehensive settlement leading to reunification of the island.  

Last year, both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community accepted the Secretary General’s proposals, which were, however, rejected by the Greek Cypriot side. There is every reason to expect Annan to resume his good offices soon and to bring the question to a positive conclusion well before Turkey’s possible entry into the EU around 2015. The Cyprus issue should therefore not be construed as an obstacle to the start of negotiations.

The same is true of the reported intention of some EU governments to have the so-called “Privileged Partnership” concept explicitly included in the negotiating framework as an alternative to full membership. This proposal was discussed at last December’s European Council meeting and rejected, resulting in a reference to “open-ended negotiations” in the Council’s conclusions. That wording – never used in previous enlargement rounds – may have ruffled Turkey’s feathers, but it was finally accepted as the type of constructive ambiguity that is so often used in international diplomacy.