Thursday, December 16, 2004

A Turkey is not just for Christmas

The outcome of the talks at the European Council on Turkish accession seem now to be decided. The EU will open accession talks but with one condition: Turkey must recognise Cyprus as an independent nation. That, presumably, means that in the not too distant future Turkey must remove its troops from the island.

But the decision has not been formally announced and we are all left on tenterhooks overnight. Yet, for all the apparent drama – with BBC radio 4's "World Tonight" having devoted most of the programme to the issue of Turkish accession - it is as well to remember that much of what has been and is going on is pure theatre.

Tonight is the night when the heads of state and governments wine and dine, with their foreign affairs ministers dining in a separate room. And with over twenty-five in each venue, sitting round elongated dining tables, the conditions are hardly conducive to proper negotiation.

In fact, the negotiations are actually carried on elsewhere. The really serious talks are between high-level officials and technical teams of Turkish and EU officials, which "continue synchronously" before the meeting of the European Council.

There have also been a series of bilateral meetings, with Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan meeting Silvio Berlusconi, while foreign minister Abdullah Gul met his counterparts, all with continuous telephone traffic between all the parties.

By the time a European Council actually starts, the substantive issues have usually been resolved and, immediately after breakfast, the first task of the members – before they get down to their discussions - is to agree the communiqué which will be issued at the conclusion of the council.

This will be no different in this case as, on the agenda, is a meeting with Kofi Annan. This will eat into the time available for any serious talks, had there ever been any really serious intention of having them.

I guess that when we finally see the communiqué, it will say just what we all expected – that accession talks with Turkey will start, and resolution of the Cyprus issue will be made a condition of them proceeding.

Then we will be in for the long haul – something which Turkey is quite used to, having first applied to join the EEC in 1963. The smart money is on the negotiations taking at least ten years, if not longer, which means that the European Council will be dealing with the ongoing drama year after year after year at their Brussels meetings.

One thing is for sure though. The members may announce formally one decision tomorrow, but they will all also be aware that a Turkey is not just for Christmas.

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