The Washington Times, December 19, 2002
History can still be made
Published December 19, 2002
Last week's EU summit in Copenhagen was both a momentous achievement and one marked by missed opportunities. The formal invitation of 10 new EU members, including mostly former Soviet-bloc countries, sweeps away the last vestiges of the Soviet-imposed division of Europe and signals the consolidation of a united, democratic Europe. As the United States and its democratic allies face new threats from the likes of al Qaeda, Saddam Hussein and others, this accomplishment could have not have arrived at a more crucial time. It sends a message to the enemies of democracy that the democratic world just got stronger.
There had been hopes, however, that the summit would have achieved more. In Copenhagen, EU leaders had an opportunity to forge a new alliance across an ancient East-West divide as old as Athens and Troy. By solving the Cyprus problem and giving Turkey a firm date to begin EU accession negotiations, it could have finally put to rest one of the world's oldest standing ethnic conflicts and arranged a wedding date to join Muslims and Christians under the European banner of democracy and the free market. It is now up to Turkey, Greece and the leaders of Cyprus to do what Copenhagen could not accomplish. They must solve the Cyprus problem and open the floodgates of a new era of tolerance, democracy, and prosperity that will extend all the way to the borders of Iraq.
The island republic of Cyprus, one of the earliest of the new EU countries to meet the Copenhagen criteria for admittance, has suffered from ethnic strife between its Greek and Turkish populations for decades and has been physically divided since Turkish armed forces invaded and occupied the northern third of the island in 1974 after a Greek-led coup attempt. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has been working furiously for the last several weeks to broker a settlement between the island's two leaders in time for the Copenhagen summit so that Cyprus could enter the European Union as one united republic.
Despite a valiant effort made by Greece and the Greek Cypriots and encouraging words from Turkey's new ruling party, no agreement was reached. Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash was notably missing at Copenhagen, and was, according to Turkish authorities, in a hospital in Ankara. His absence made the brokering of a last-minute deal almost impossible. President Bush had urged Turkey to help facilitate a solution to the Cyprus problem, arguing that it would help its chances of entering the European Union, a priority of both the Bush administration and Ankara. The Bush administration is also hoping that Ankara will allow US forces to use Turkish bases as a staging ground for a possible attack on Iraq.
The Copenhagen summit also raised expectations that the European leaders would begin clearing Turkey's path to the European Union. Turkey had hoped to receive a firm date from European leaders at the two-day summit to begin its formal accession into the European Union in 2003. President Bush and Greece had both lobbied EU leaders to give Turkey a date. Greece hoped giving Turkey a date would help accelerate movement on Cyprus, while Mr. Bush believed the European Union would send a powerful message to the Muslim world by accepting Turkey, a Muslim nation, into its club.
The European Union rejected Turkey's request, however, citing its troubling human-rights record, its economic problems, and the lack of civilian authority over the military as stumbling blocks. The European Union has said that it will reassess Turkey's request in December 2004, provided it has made sufficient progress in all three areas. Turkish leaders are currently decrying the European Union decision as a reflection of its chauvinistic intolerance of Turkey's Muslim population. Although there are certainly some Europeans who are wary of Turkey entering the European Union for a host of reasons, some even anti-Islamic in nature, Ankara is not going to help its case by playing the bigotry card.
If Turkey sincerely wants to join the European Union, then it should begin by working more aggressively with Greece to broker a just and workable solution to the Cyprus problem that both sides can accept with dignity. It should not use what happened in Copenhagen as an excuse to return to a policy of intransigence on Cyprus.
In January, Greece will assume the presidency of the European Union for a six-month term. If Turkey does its part to push Turkish Cypriot leader Denktash to broker a compromise solution on Cyprus in the first half of this year, Ankara will have no better advocate for its goal of EU membership than Greece. Greece already demonstrated in Copenhagen that it is Turkey's most vocal lobbyist for EU membership. And, as EU president, Greece will have an even better platform from which to make a case for Turkey. That will not happen, however, unless Turkey takes the initiative and pushes ahead on Cyprus. Despite what happened in Copenhagen, EU membership remains in Turkey's national self-interest. Although Ankara does not like to admit it, Cyprus is the key that will unlock the door to its EU future.
The world needs Turkey to provide it with a model of a modern, democratic Muslim state. By helping to solve the Cyprus problem, Turkey will take a giant step towards fulfilling that need.
Rep. Rush Holt, a Democratic congressman from New Jersey, is a member of House Hellenic Caucus.
Copyright #169; 2002 News World Communications, Inc. All rights reserved.