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Media Watch 2010

08 November 2010
Source: The Times
Author: Jack Straw, former British Foreign Secretary
Comment: Jack Straw's comments on Cyprus are a reminder of his utter contempt for the Rule of Law
Jack Straw: "No ifs or buts, Turkey must be part of the EU; Cyprus is just an excuse for those who cannot stomach the accession of a Muslim country"
The most important strategic decision facing the EU is its future relationship with Turkey. The UK's position has long been clear and bipartisan — full Turkish membership of the EU as soon as possible.

The most important strategic decision facing the EU is its future relationship with Turkey. The UK's position has long been clear and bipartisan — full Turkish membership of the EU as soon as possible. David Cameron told the Commons in June that "we should back [Turkey's membership] wholeheartedly". Britain's unambiguous support for Turkey will be underscored by the visit of Abdullah Gül, its President, this week, with the award to him tomorrow by the Queen of the Chatham House Prize. 
Forty-six years after Turkey first signalled its wish to join the EU, there was some hope in 2005 that rapid progress towards this goal might be achieved. Following tortuous negotiations under the UK Presidency all 27 members of the EU agreed on 3 October 2005 actively to start accession negotiations with Turkey. 
But the wheels have come off, with potentially disastrous consequences. In the summer, in light of Turkey's refusal to back tougher sanctions on Iran, Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, claimed that Turkey may have been "pushed by some in Europe" towards Iran. This "pushing away" has not followed from any conscious rethinking of the 2005 decision to embrace Turkey, but principally because Europe's strategic future with Turkey (population 74 million) is now hostage to negotiations over Cyprus. (Greek Cypriot population 0.75 million, Turkish Cypriot 0.25 million). 
Cyprus is an internationally recognised sovereign state. However, the writ of the Government of Cyprus extends only to the south of the island, ever since the Turkish Army's occupation of the predominantly Turkish Cypriot north in 1974. A UN "Green Line" runs through the middle of the capital, Nicosia, with the government of the not-so-far recognised "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" (TRNC) in control in the north, with thousands of Turkish troops garrisoned there too. 
There are two stories: one of the "unjustifiable" Turkish invasion; the other of such "violent oppression" by the Greek majority of the minority that Turkish protection was (and is) vital. Both sets of stories have truths, but because Greek Cyprus was admitted to the EU before any settlement of the island's future it is their truths which dominate EU decisions on Turkey. 
Of the 35 chapters of the draft accession treaty with Turkey, 18 (the key ones) are blocked or frozen — eight by a formal EU decision, four by France, and six by Cyprus. Although there is opposition in France to Turkish membership, the naked vulgarity of those whose real objections are that Turkey is 98 per cent Muslim would be far easier to counter without the convenient excuse that Cyprus provides. 
Each of the blocks on Turkey's accession can be plausibly explained by reference to some failure by Turkey, or the TRNC, to meet formal undertakings in full. But there is a larger reality here, that failures by the EU or Cyprus are brushed aside. In 2004 the President of Cyprus, Tassos Papadopoulos, signed a UN accord for a referendum on a new power-sharing constitution. He then campaigned duplicitously for a "no" vote. He was rewarded with EU membership, while solemn EU commitments to the Turkish Cypriots who kept to their side of the bargain and voted "yes" have never properly been delivered. 
Despite Turkey's longstanding acknowledgement that because of its size, and differential wage costs, there would have to be decades-long transitional restrictions, especially on free movement of labour, it has been more toughly treated by the EU than any other applicant state. 
Take Bulgaria and Romania. They were admitted to the EU in 2007 after waiting only ten years. Their GDP per head is similar to Turkey's. There are serious concerns, still, about corruption and inadequate judicial systems in these two countries. Yet the EU chose (and I was party to this) to apply a Nelson's eye to some of those shortcomings in pursuit of a wider strategic goal. In other words the EU showed some practical vision now so lamentably lacking for Turkey. 
Under a succession of able Special Representatives the UN has made heroic efforts over the years to find a one-state solution for Cyprus, in accordance with the UN mandate for a "bi-zonal bi-communal federation, with political equality". This task now falls to Alexander Downer, the former Australian Foreign Minister. He's talented and experienced, and might pull off success. 
Next week, the Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias, and the TRNC President Dervis Eroglu have critical talks with the UN Secretary-General. We should pray for success. But the chances of a settlement would be greatly enhanced if the international community broke a taboo, and started publicly to recognise that if "political equality" cannot be achieved within one state, then it could with two states — north and south. 
It is time for the UK Government to consider formally the partition of Cyprus if the talks fail. This will be very controversial in the UN as well as the EU. Russia will be vehement in its opposition — as it was with Kosovo. But those who respond by inviting me to wash my mouth out with carbolic might like to say how much longer the EU and the UN can tolerate the current approach, whose only consequence so far has been to paralyse the development of relations with Turkey. 
Good reasons led me to believe that having (Greek Cypriot) Cyprus within the EU would assist the peace process. 
This judgment has not been borne out by events. When in 2004 Cypriot behaviour did lead us to have second thoughts, we should have faced down the explicit threat from Greece to veto all other accessions (of states such as Poland and Hungary) unless Cyprus came in at the same time. 
We cannot turn the clock back. But we can change the terms of trade. The EU needs Turkey rather more than Turkey needs the EU. 
Jack Straw was Foreign Secretary 2001-06