Cyprus a sticking point in EU-NATO co-operation

14/06/2007

Turkey does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004 and is demanding inclusion in a new strategic co-operation agreement between the bloc and NATO. The dispute could affect plans for maintaining peace in Kosovo.

By Ayhan Simsek for Southeast European Times in Ankara -- 14/06/07

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NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer (left) meets with Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Tuesday (June 12th). [Getty Images]

Disputes between Turkey and the EU that have hampered efforts to boost defence co-operation were high on the agenda of NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's talks with officials in Ankara this week.

He heard from Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul that Turkey does not oppose improved defence ties between NATO and the EU, but that this should be done through existing co-operation mechanisms instead of new ones.

Under the existing "Berlin Plus" Agreement, reached in 2002, Cyprus -- which is not a member of NATO or the Partnership for Peace -- was excluded from strategic co-operation between the two organisations. But the country, minus its Turkish-run north, has since joined the EU and insists that it should take part, along with the other new EU members that joined in 2004.

This is a major sticking point for Turkey, which does not recognise the Greek Cypriot administration in the south. Until a comprehensive solution on the decades-old Cyprus problem is reached, Ankara argues, Nicosia should not be allowed a seat at the table when joint EU-NATO missions are discussed.

Turkey also wants Cyprus to stop blocking its bid to become an associate member of the European Defence Agency, a panel established to bolster the European arms industry.

"Parameters were already set in 2002. You shouldn't expect further flexibility from Turkey, a country that has introduced major contributions to NATO as an ally, on this issue," the daily Zaman quoted Gul as telling de Hoop Scheffer. "It shouldn't solely be Turkey that is expected to be flexible. Like NATO does in these kinds of situations, the EU should find a solution to this issue itself, without using its form of a decision mechanism as an excuse."

It could also affect plans for expanded co-operation between NATO troops and a future police mission in Kosovo. If the status plan currently before the UN Security Council is passed, the EU would take over policing in Kosovo from the UN later this year. The planned takeover involves 1,500 EU staff working alongside 16,000 NATO peacekeepers.

However, the framework for future NATO-EU co-operation in Kosovo must first be ironed out.

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Turkey has been a significant contributor to the NATO and EU's peace and stability operations in conflict zones around the world, including Afghanistan. But Ankara decided last week to withdraw its commitment to the EU for future peacekeeping missions.

As a NATO member, Turkey had earlier pledged to contribute a brigade to Headline Goal 2010, a military target set under the EU's security and defence strategy. But the EU's decision to list the proposed Turkish brigade as part of "reserve forces" rather than "active forces" frustrated Turkish generals and diplomats, who have long sought a major role.

Turkey is also frustrated about being excluded from command and control structures in EU-led operations that take place in the framework of NATO-EU co-operation, even though it has made significant contributions.

While in Ankara, de Hoop Scheffer told reporters that talks among the partners would continue in a constructive manner. He then headed for the NATO defence ministers' meeting in Brussels.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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