Club Med, the French travel and tourism operator that has played a significant role in turning the Mediterranean Sea into a “lake of tourism,” was moving forward in Turkey with new facilities in the early 90s. Turkish travel makers who could afford it were enthusiastic about this “all-inclusive” vacation mode, many wondering if they could go into the club.
(“All-inclusive” tourism would later cause great trouble for the industry, and Club Med itself would experience ups and downs over time, but this is the subject of another article, other authors.)
At the very same time, Turkish people were enthusiastic about membership to another club, the European Union, and this thrill was not limited to the upper-middle class.
Still, the question remained the same: Would they take us too?”
A decades-long bid
Well, Ankara had applied as early as 1959 for membership to the union, which was the European Economic Community (ECC) at the time, but years passed with mutual tensions, with Europe dragging its foot to accept a Muslim-majority country to the bloc for the first time.
However, Turkey’s accession debate heated up with the Customs Union agreement in 1996. And at the Helsinki European Council on Dec. 10-11, 1999, Turkey was officially recognised without any precondition as a candidate state.
Change in the political climate
This breakthrough came ahead of a major political change in the country, with today’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) rising from inside anti-EU Islamist Necmettin Erbakan’s political party. The AKP emerged as a political actor in 2001, rejecting some of the conservatism of Erbakan’s followers and sticking to the Turkish Republic’s decades-long EU bid.
(Let’s leave the chronology to experts, noting that the article “History of Turkey-EU Relations” at the Foreign Ministry’s official website gives a general outlook on Ankara’s version of the accession process story.)
How about the Cyprus issue?
EU membership had never looked that close to Turkey, before the Negotiation Framework Document was announced at an intergovernmental conference in Luxembourg on Oct. 3, 2005.
The sun’s gentle October rays were kissing the Aegean and Mediterranean sands, not excluding the beaches of a beautiful island. Turkish foreign policy has always been consistent about the Cyprus issue, and deep inside, Ankara knows that good relations with the EU are firmly linked to a solution in Cyprus, and its EU accession is almost impossible in the lack of it. We would later realize that this period, when EU affairs gained momentum, was actually a peak, where the downward trend began. Today, some opponents of the AKP see the mid-2000s, and especially the early elections of 2007, as a turning point. In this snap poll, members of the parliament who would choose the name to replace the secular 10th President Ahmet Necdet Sezer were elected. With the resolution of a political crisis, Abdullah Gül, the close political ally of then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and an EU-enthusiast, became the president. The Gül-Erdoğan relationship began like an “all-inclusive” honeymoon, but years proved otherwise.
Hopes over unification of divided Cyprus
This was also a milestone for the AKP’s foreign policy rhetoric, which gradually got tougher. Worst of all, we have seen that such change was generally inspired by the domestic political needs of the ruling party, not the interests of the country.
With the election of Mustafa Akıncı in Turkish Cyprus in 2015, the hope for a solution on the island again blossomed. However, the negotiation table designed by him and his Greek Cypriot counterpart Nikos Anastasiadis did not last long, sinking the hopes for utilizing natural gas resources around the island together. The parties spoke in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, for 10 days in 2017 as part of a U.N. initiative but failed to produce a resolution consensus. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavusoğlu said on 7 July 2017 that “In the last 15 years, since the day we came to power, we have made all kinds of contributions to find a fair and lasting solution to the Cyprus problem, despite the rejection of the Annan Plan by the Greeks.”
His words do not hide the AKP’s intention to resolve the Cyprus issue and remove an obstacle in its relations with the EU.
Akıncı and Anastasiadis talks ended like an unfinished summer song.
Who would benefit from the Turkey-Turkish Cyprus dispute?
Recent Turkish-Greek tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean do not give room to further initiatives for a Cyprus resolution. But an exchange of words between the Turkish Cypriot leader and the Turkish foreign minister is not helping either:
Mustafa Akıncı told The Guardian on Sept that the motto of “Cyprus is Turkish, Will Remain Turkish” policy is the motto of the 1950s. He also complained in an interview with Euronews on Sept. 8 of a Turkish intervention on the upcoming presidential election on the Turkish side of the divided island.
Çavuşoğlu responded at a press conference on Sept. 10, saying that “I’ve never worked anywhere with such a dishonest politician … What could be the advantage of worsening relations with Turkey?”
France seeks Mediterranean support
Cyprus resolution failure accompanies another disappointment.
The hopes of yesterday’s Club Med enthusiasts for Turkey’s EU accession has been reduced to a visa-free travel bid.
In the light of all these, let’s see what is recent in the Eastern Mediterranean tensions. France is raising its hand with aggressive policies against Turkey, acting as a representative or spokesperson of the EU. But is it?
Emmanuel Macron’s latest salvos against Turkey came at a meeting of the Club Med, not at the tourism company mentioned above, but the community also known as Med7, formed by the EU countries on the Mediterranean and Portugal.
“There should be a common attitude on Turkey. Europe should have a common policy on energy and strategic issues,” he said ahead of the meetings.
His tweet “Pax Mediterranea!” (The Mediterranean Peace) also drew reaction from Turkish social media users.
However, Macron failed to place words sharper than “We maintain that in absence of progress in engaging Turkey into a dialogue and unless it ends its unilateral activities, the EU is ready to develop a list of further restrictive measures that could be discussed at the European Council on September 24-25” in the final declaration of the meeting.
Ankara emphasizes ‘Europeanness’
The response came from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, which said “French President Macron made once again an arrogant statement with his old colonial reflexes, as if he was trying to give lessons with a haughty attitude.”
Ankara called on the EU to act in favor of reconciliation and dialogue. “This is also a requirement of our Europeanness and of our ally status at NATO.”
The spokesperson of the ministry, Hami Aksoy, also said on Sept. 11 that ” the EU and other participants of the joint declaration in question should drop their one-sided and biased policy, which they blindly follow under the pretext of solidarity, contrary to international law and the EU acquis itself. Solidarity should be extended to those who are right, if they are indeed right. Solidarity should not be extended to those who are not right. No solidarity should be extended to those who do not have a just position.”
What encourages France?
Turkey says France is acting as the “EU spokesperson”, which is a timely and effective criticism. Between the lines, it sends Germany, the rotating president of the EU, a message, asking “Who is the boss of the bloc?”
However, the French move to make use of the deep cracks in EU-Turkey, or to take advantage of the Turkish-Greek tension in a bid to be involved in the eastern Mediterranean was an expected outcome.
Turkey’s EU accession is a totally different issue. But building good ties with the European countries? Linking this to the latest Eastern Mediterranean tension would be an incomplete look. Just think whether France could have dared to put that much pressure on an EU-membership candidate and a key trade partner of Europe if Turkey had developed better ties with other European countries based on mutual interest?
Three Mediterranean issues
Despite any provocations, Turkey has to push for fair and win-win resolutions to three main Med Sea issues: the Cyprus issue, the exclusive economic zones, and sovereignty rights over its continental shelf. Otherwise, wouldn’t it be exhausting to be open to the blackmail of each EU country on separate occasions? Especially when it is possible to be part of a fair “Pax Mediterranea” if it takes the other way?