EU vs Turkey: The other side of the coin

Egemen Bağış, Former EU Minister and Chief Negotiator of Turkey

EU vs Turkey: The other side of the coin


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Turkey has been subjected to extreme criticism in Brussels lately. Living in an age of complexity and unpredictability, the world is being divided more and more. Adding insult to injury is not in the interest of any party at this time of uncertainty.  Conflicting policies and harmful statements prevent us from addressing the global challenges in unity, leaving us vulnerable against them.

I would like to draw your attention to the immediate neighbourhood of my country, Turkey. In the south, in the Middle East, we are facing the greatest turbulence of our time. In the north, we are surrounded by both frozen and actual conflicts among former Soviet Union Republics. In the west, we are an inherent part of the Balkans, where peace and stability remain fragile. Additionally, Turkey stands at the crossroads of the routes of migrants and Foreign Terrorist Fighters, which pose a direct threat not only to our country, but also to the whole international order.

Such a geography requires Turkey to be strong, resilient and active. This is key for the peace and stability of our region. It is also self-evident that the peace and stability of this geography is vital for Turkey’s well-being. So there is a mutual benefit here. That is why, Turkey has been following a principled foreign policy since its foundation by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, guided by the dictum: “Peace at Home, Peace in the World”.

In the Eastern Mediterranean, the Cyprus issue continues to be at the core of the challenges we face. The European Union seems to forget that the Annan Plan, which would have ensured peace and stability for the whole island, was overwhelmingly rejected by Greek Cypriots while the majority of Turkish Cypriots had embraced it. Despite this fact, the Greek Cypriot administration was accepted as a full member and Turks were isolated as if voting in line with EU demands was a punishable act.

Turkey recently participated at the Crans Montana meetings with a strong will and determination to contribute to the joint efforts for finding a just, viable and durable solution to the problem.  The positive approach and determination exhibited by Turkey, as well as the Turkish Cypriots, were acknowledged by almost all in the international community. Regrettably, the Crans Montana meetings, hence the negotiation process initiated in 2008, concluded with no result. Turkey continues to believe that only a negotiated settlement based on dialogue and diplomacy can lead to a just, viable and durable solution in Cyprus. Therefore, we defend, Turkey and Greece should continue to work in this direction.

A worker walks in front of the Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz at Dilovasi port in city of Kocaeli, Turkey, 20 June 2019. Turkey's second drilling ship will operate off the Karpas Peninsula to the northeast of the island of Cyprus. Yavuz will be determined by geology and geophysics studies of the vessel and it will take place at a depth of approximately 1,000 meters on the seabed and some 3,000 meters of drilling will be made, Bilgin said, adding that the ship will move to its second location once the first drill is completed. EPA-EFE/ERDEM SAHIN

A worker walks in front of the Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz at Dilovasi port in city of Kocaeli, Turkey, 20 June 2019. Turkey’s second drilling ship will operate off the Karpas Peninsula to the northeast of the island of Cyprus. Yavuz will be determined by geology and geophysics studies of the vessel and it will take place at a depth of approximately 1,000 meters on the seabed and some 3,000 meters of drilling will be made, Bilgin said, adding that the ship will move to its second location once the first drill is completed. EPA-EFE/ERDEM SAHIN

This also applies to the issue of the exploitation of the hydrocarbon resources of the island. Insisting on unilateral activities with a view to exclude and isolate the Turkish Cypriots in the island, will certainly not be productive for the long-term positive aspirations regarding our region.

Unfortunately the Greek Cypriots pushed for a decision at the EU General Affairs Council against our hydrocarbon activities in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkey is already quite disappointed with the EU’s approach to the Cyprus issue and to the latest developments in the Eastern Mediterranean region.

These statements insert further strain on the already impaired image of the EU as a biased actor in the region. The EU should refrain from taking sides in overlapping maritime jurisdiction area claims and acting as a court in deciding on maritime boundaries.

Far from being impartial, the EU’s positions exclusively reflects the position of the Greek Cypriot Administration. This stance risks further discouraging efforts towards the settlement of the Cyprus issue, as well as worsening Turkish-Greek relations.

Turkey’s hydrocarbon related activities in the Eastern Mediterranean region are based on its legitimate rights stemming from the international law. The drilling area lies within our continental shelf registered with the UN back in 2004. The support given to the maximalist maritime jurisdiction boundary claims of Greece and the Greek Cypriot Administration is indeed a direct violation of the international law. Entitlement and delimitation are not the same thing. There is no automacity in claiming that islands generate full maritime jurisdiction areas, which indeed is not the case in international law. Islands are given limited effect in maritime boundary delimitation if their location distorts equitable delimitation.

The Island of Cyprus cannot generate a full exclusive economic zone based on a simplistic equidistance delimitation method in the west of the Island as it distorts the equitable delimitation under international law. Therefore, Turkey does not recognize the unilateral and illegitimate exclusive economic zone claims of the Greek Cypriots. In fact, it is the Greek Cypriots’ unilateral hydrocarbon-related activities which jeopardize the security and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean region. They disregard the inalienable rights of the Turkish Cypriots, as the co-owners of the Island, on natural resources of the Island.

Turkish Cypriots made constructive proposals back in 2011 and 2012, where the hydrocarbons issue would benefit both sides on the Island. These proposals are still on the table. A joint energy committee should be established on the Island, with the participation of Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots; international oil companies might also help providing stability.

Otherwise, Turkey will resolutely continue to protect her own continental shelf rights. Moreover, as long as the Greek Cypriot side does not cease its unilateral hydrocarbon activities or fails to cooperate with the Turkish Cypriots with a view to establishing a joint decision making mechanism on hydrocarbons, Turkey is also determined to protect Turkish Cypriots’ rights on the offshore resources in the region.

Turkey’s EU accession process has been discussed from different angles during the more than fifty years of history of this relationship. In any case, “What happened to Turkey’s motivation towards EU accession?” is a million-dollar question containing various aspects and perspectives. It is important to realize that the accession process is not only a political and technical issue but also an issue between societies. Therefore, if a reluctance in the Turkish side has emerged, the EU and its Member States have had their share in this.

Turkey’s EU journey could easily be included in the Guinness book of records since no other country has waited this long in order to join any international organization. The European Union’s approach to Turkey has been perceived as insulting to our citizens at times, especially during the last several years.

I have always argued that Turkey should perceive EU as a dietician. We all know that we should watch what we eat and we should exercise regularly in order to lead a healthy life. However, following a tested and proven prescription of a reliable dietician who monitors you regularly always helps. This fact would not change even if the dietician herself is overweight or has a few clogged arteries. On the other hand, if a dietician starts insulting his or her client, that individual would be inclined to either look for another dietician or totally give up the programme. It is my sincere hope that the biggest question in Brussels during the upcoming years will not become: “Who lost Turkey?”

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