With targeted moves, Turkey is determining its diplomatic steps ahead of the December European Council: a hard line and unbearable pressure on Nicosia (Varosha – “two states”) [editor’s note: it refers to the issues of the abandoned -since the Turkish invasion- city of Varosha in the occupied part of Cyprus that recently was opened to the public again and the issue of the dichotomisation of Cyprus], partial relaxation at sea against Athens and, at the same time, openness and flexibility in its agenda with the European Union. This diplomatic mix shows what the weak link is: Cyprus. With the contradictory handling of Nicosia and the verbalism of Athens, the two governments maintain a vicious circle; they are unable to follow the Turkish diplomacy and are in danger of a new diplomatic “Waterloo” on December 10th and 11th.
Ibrahim Kalin, Erdoğan’s most trusted associate, travelled on 20 November to Brussels to discuss Euro-Turkish relations. He had intensive meetings with officials close to Charles Michel and the President of the Commission, Ursula von der Leyen (Bjoern Seibert, Helga Schmid). In the aftermath of Kalin’s visit, Erdoğan made an unusual statement: “We do not see ourselves anywhere else but in Europe, we plan to build our future together with Europe”.
According to information from the Council and the Commission, significant convergences with Turkey were achieved on all the issues of the “positive agenda”:
- On an upgraded customs union with the integration of new industrial products.
- On the criteria for the phasing out of the visa.
- In setting out a new package on immigration.
The progress at the technocratic level was so extensive that it creates the necessary material for the resumption of Euro-Turkish relations. For the first time after many years of dystocia, such a convergence is taking place. In essence, momentum builds up technocratically so that only the political decision-making by the European Council is pending. The Foreign Ministries of Greece and Cyprus currently do not seem to be prepared for an impending vital negotiation. They have entrenched themselves under the banner of sanctions.
For months, Turkish diplomacy has been working feverishly to alter the balance within the EU. To maximise its influence it plays the geostrategic card and the migration issue. It is difficult to ignore these. Based on the interdependence of the Turkish economy with that of the most important member states, even with Greece, Turkey promotes mutual trade interests. A serious parameter is also the exposure of European banking capital to the Turkish economy.
The recent change in Erdoğan’s economic staff was welcomed with relief, boosting the credibility of a Euro-Turkish rapprochement. These arguments are amplified (by Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, etc) and the have the “special weight” to make many others follow. The Council and Commission bureaucracy also advocate a “positive agenda”. Even France is taking a softer stance, despite the fact that it is in favour of “some” warnings. Erdoğan also became more careful, lowering the tone and the personal confrontation with Emmanuel Macron: “The EU must keep its promises, it should not pursue a policy of discrimination nor engage in hostility against Turkey,” he said.
The more flexible the Turkish government becomes with the rest of its European partners, the tougher its stance gets on the Cyprus issue. On Wednesday 25th November, the National Security Council met under the chairmanship of Tayyip Erdoğan and adopted as a “national policy” the new line on the Cyprus issue for the “two states”. It demands “the existence of two different nations and states on the island to be recognised and that the non-recognition of the existence of the Turkish Cypriots come to an end.” Ten days earlier, Erdoğan himself launched the opening up of Varosha.
Of course, Turkish diplomacy knows that the UN will not abandon the Security Council mandate for a federation until it makes a last-ditch effort, perhaps in March. Reading through the lines of the obstructive tactics of President Nikos Anastasiades, Ankara will lead the discussions with the UN to the issue of political equality. Its goal is to prove that Anastasiades rejects the division of power with the Turkish Cypriot side under a common federal roof. Therefore, the issue requires “new ideas” with “sovereign equality” of both sides. With this “narrative”, Ankara managed to limit the reactions to what was done in Varosha and at the seas, something which in another time would upset everyone internationally.
Turkish diplomacy argues that the Cyprus issue is more easily resolved on the basis of “sovereign equality”: to upgrade the status of the Turkish Cypriots and to divide the existing territories – this is how Varosha is lost. Similar arrangements should be made for the seas. The terminology for a form of separate sovereignty refers to the era of Rauf Denktaş.
In 2003 with the rise of Erdoğan, Turkish diplomacy turned to single sovereignty and federation, with some sovereign powers given to the states. Subsequently, in 2010 (Christofia-Talat convergences) [editor’s note: former presidents of Cyprus and of so-called Northern Cyprus respectively] and in 2014-17, it accepted one sovereignty that derives from the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots (Eroglou – Anastasiadis) [editor’s note: former presidents of so-called Northern Cyprus and of Cyprus respectively]. The reasoning for sovereign equality finds international acceptance as long as Ankara goes with the flow when it comes to the deep fatigue of the international community about the status quo in Cyprus, which is considered unsustainable. “Whenever solutions are found, the Greek Cypriots are the ones who run away” Turkish diplomats claim.
Athens and Nicosia are trying to put the discussion of the “Borrell list” back on the Council’s agenda. By raising the banner of sanctions again, they have a hope that the outrageous provocations – such as Varosha – will move European partners. At the last teleconference of the ministers, the Greek Foreign Minister Nikios Dendias denounced as “pretence” the recall for mooring of “Oruç Reis” on 29/11. His Cypriot counterpart Nikos Christodoulides reminded his partners of the famous “Famagusta” of the Middle Ages and the resistance of Christianity (of the then west) against the Ottomans.
The submission of the “Borrell list” with the six points (sectoral sanctions) is a possible development, but not so certain. The same goes about the decision to impose sanctions, unless they are, so to say, symbolic and a joke, made just to save face or to infuriate Erdoğan. In essence, Dendias and Christodoulides keep intact a vicious cycle, without taking advantage of the opportunity to link Turkey’s positive agenda with concessions at the root of the problem of the EEZs: the resolution of the Cyprus issue and a recourse to The Hague.
Nicosia continues the diplomacy of evasion, while Athens wants to veto the customs union. However, it is very likely that Turkey will pass the first “test” for a positive agenda in the European Council, leaving the option to Mitsotakis-Anastasiades to simply vote against it, by themselves or together with a small minority of member states who will reconsider their stance very soon.
* The article is republished in the newspaper “Politis” of Cyprus