The Brief, powered by Eni – To understand Turkey, speak to the Cypriots

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Tomorrow (15 July) is the first anniversary of the failed Turkish coup. Too much analysis has already taken place. To really understand a country, it’s always good to speak to a neighbour. My take will be on Cyprus.

Turkey officially wants to join the EU but it doesn’t recognise one of its members. And this EU member has tens of thousands of Turkish troops on its soil.

The Cyprus reunification talks recently collapsed due to Turkey’s insistence that some of its troops should remain on the island indefinitely.

Today I asked a Cypriot diplomat if the Turkish coup had anything to do with why the talks had failed. He said it was difficult to say what the direct impact was but certainly, after the coup, Turkey had become a “one-man-show”. And of course, the Cyprus talks were not high on Erdogan’s list of priorities.

In addition, Turkey has upped the ante after Cyprus recently started offshore drilling in its economic zone. But Cyprus won’t be intimidated because if it backs down, it will be doomed, the diplomat said. He added that Cypriots were getting used to Turkish threats, although they did take them “very seriously”.

In 2002, when Cyprus was about to close its accession negotiations with the EU, Turkey made statements that if Nicosia proceeded with the accession, there would be “consequences without limits”.

So the hope on the Cypriot side seems to be that the situation will remain under control despite the threats.

Erdogan has also been threatening to flood Europe with refugees. This threat has been particularly worrying for Bulgaria, another neighbour of Turkey. He has also threatened to review Turkey’s EU ties “from A to Z”.

He has even warned that no European would feel safe on the streets of the continent, and Turkish diplomats were summoned to explain what he meant. He also qualified as “Nazi measures” the refusal of Germany and some other countries to allow Turkish campaigning on their soil.

Despite opposition from some member states – Austria being the most prominent – the EU is not closing its door on Turkey’s EU accession and has not abandoned a plan to offer visa-free travel to Turks, despite the setbacks.

This is not only because of the EU-Turkey agreement to stop refugees sailing to the Greek islands. It may look pragmatic, but it is more strategic.

For Cyprus, what is important today is to keep the reunification process alive. It would be too stupid to throw away the huge acquis of the negotiations. Cyprus has never been so close to reunification as it was five weeks ago. This should not be the end of the process, even if some in Ankara think so.

So the lesson to be learned is not to lash out when you feel threatened but to stay engaged. Cyprus helps us understand that big neighbours need big patience.

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