Faced with a common security threat in Syria, the EU and Turkey are in close dialogue, but divisions remain over support to Syrian opposition and the Greek Cypriot EU presidency.
By Ayhan Simsek for Southeast European Times in Brussels -- 15/08/12
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton (left) greets Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu at a meeting in Poland, September 3rd 2011. [Reuters]
EU candidate Turkey is seeking stronger international involvement for the conflict in neighbouring Syria, but most of its European partners continue to follow a cautious line in the 17-month conflict.
"Foreign military intervention [in Syria] should be avoided by all means," Cyprus Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, told SETimes. "It would have dire repercussions not only for the country, but for the whole region."
Turkey is sheltering 60,000 refugees and is one of the strongest critics of the Syrian regime. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Syria President Bashar al-Assad of supplying arms to the PKK and raised the possibility of military intervention if the PKK threat increases.
Meanwhile, Syrian rebels are calling for no-fly zones and safe havens patrolled by foreign forces near the borders with Turkey and Jordan.
Despite Turkey's calls for stronger international action, some European politicians are expressing concerns about Turkey's role and the future of Syria, where they fear radical Islamist groups may grasp the power and pursue anti-democratic policies against minorities.
Some criticise what they describe as Turkey's pro-Sunni bias and the government's support of Sunni opposition groups. Two leading conservative deputies from the European Parliament, Elmar Brok and Ioannis Kasoulides, recently called on Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia to take into account the other minority groups in supporting the opposition.
"They should not selectively support only one opposition movement but, on the contrary, exercise their influence for an all-inclusive opposition that will secure the future of the vulnerable minorities in Syria," Brok and Kasoulides said in a joint statement.
"The main support of Syria's President Bashar Al-Assad at the present time is the tacit approval that he gets from the Alawite, Kurd, Christian and Druze minorities. If these minorities feel secure enough that the future of Syria will not be in the hands of Islamist Sunni forces alone, which they fear may victimise them, then they will abandon their passive support," said Brok, chairman of the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee.
Yet others criticise European countries for not extending their support to Ankara in the face of growing challenges posed by the Syria conflict.
"Unfortunately, we are witnessing that all the European Union is still preoccupied with the financial crisis," Ismail Ertug, an EU parliamentarian, told SETimes.
"EU bureaucrats, diplomats positively report about Turkey’s role on foreign policy, Syria, but these reports do not help clear the way for Turkey’s EU membership process," Ertug said.
The Union's top diplomat, Catherine Ashton, and Turkey Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu are maintaining contact during Syrian crisis. EU and Turkish diplomats both express willingness to further develop political dialogue and co-operation, but the Cyprus issue undermines closer collaboration between Brussels and Ankara.
Due to the lack of a settlement on the island, Cyprus is blocking Turkey's EU membership talks. Since the Greek Cypriot led Republic of Cyprus took over the helm of the rotating EU presidency on July 1st, Turkey has been boycotting meetings organised by the EU presidency.
According to European diplomats, Ashton, not the rotating EU presidency, is responsible for leading the EU's foreign policy. But still, the Cyprus problem is limiting co-operation between the EU and Turkey, with EU's evacuation plans failing to receive Turkey’s support.
Following the initiative of the Cyprus presidency, the EU is preparing to evacuate up to 200,000 citizens from Syria through Cyprus, if the situation in Syria further deteriorates, according to Eleni Mavrou, Cyprus interior minister.
"It is unfortunate that Turkey chooses not to engage with the Cyprus presidency of the council of the EU," Kozakou-Marcoullis told SETimes. "Despite the fact that Cyprus has chosen to act in an impartial manner and to take the initiative to call upon Turkey to co-operate with the Cyprus presidency, our call has not been heard."