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Media Watch 2004

18 December 2004
Source: EU Business
Author:
Comment: The following is an AFP report of EU Business of 20 December 2004.
How the West was won: hard-bargaining by Turks at EU summit
"Erdogan's shrewd bargaining did not go across well with many EU leaders, however, with one accusing him of behaving like an aggressive "carpet trader". "We were gobsmacked," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said, describing the mood. "What many colleagues say, (that) Turkish politicians still have things to learn, is quite right. We are not carpet traders here in Europe."

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gave EU leaders a classic lesson in haggling at a crunch summit here, at one point bluntly threatening to leave if he didn't get what he wanted -- but for some the hard-nosed approach left a bitter aftertaste.

Ankara and the European Union reached a deal on the start of membership talks after charged discussion of the divided island of Cyprus which at one point saw Erdogan walk away from the negotiating table, Turkish sources said.

The first disappointment for Turkey came when EU leaders agreed at the start of their summit on Thursday to open accession talks with Turkey on October 3, 2005, but demanded it recognize bloc member Cyprus before then.

The EU wanted Ankara to immediately sign a protocol to update a 1963 agreement with Turkey to cover the 10 newest EU member states, which for many would amount to de facto recognition of Cyprus.

Turkey, which invaded the northern third of the island in 1974, recognizes only the breakaway Turkish state in the north of the island and not the internationally acknowledged Greek Cypriot government in the south.

In meetings with diplomats and aides, Erdogan was advised to turn down the EU offer.

He then sat down with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende -- whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency -- late Thursday to make new proposals on the Cyprus issue and soften the terms.

The battle of wills escalated in a second meeting between the two leaders on Friday when Balkenende refused to amend the conclusion on Cyprus, saying it would not be possible to reach a compromise with all the EU leaders again.

Erdogan told the Dutch leader that he would not be able to explain the EU demand to the Turkish public and walked away from the table, a Turkish diplomat said.

When Balkenende asked Erdogan whether Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul could remain behind to continue the talks, Erdogan said "No. Bye bye" and walked out of the room, he added.

In the corridors, the Turkish leader came upon British Prime Minister Tony Blair who, along with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, persuaded Erdogan -- bluffing or not -- to stay, averting a potentially dangerous break in Turkish-EU ties.

Erdogan's shrewd bargaining did not go across well with many EU leaders, however, with one accusing him of behaving like an aggressive "carpet trader".

"We were gobsmacked," Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said, describing the mood.

"What many colleagues say, (that) Turkish politicians still have things to learn, is quite right. We are not carpet traders here in Europe."

Talks between the Turkish side and the Dutch presidency finally resumed and the two parties struck a compromise in which Turkey will issue a written declaration that it will sign the protocol sometime before the start of accession talks without actually recognising Cyprus.

There was also some dispute over who would sign the Turkish government's declaration that it will update the agreement, with the Dutch presidency pressing Erdogan to put his name on the document.

But Erdogan stuck to his guns, leading to a threat of veto by the Greek Cypriots to the opening of membership talks, a Turkish source said.

The row was resolved when Erdogan, having won the concessions he needed, agreed that a cabinet official -- State Minister Besir Atalay -- sign the declaration.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern called the episode over Turkey a "bitter pill" to swallow for the 25 heads of government.

But an EU official defended the Turks, saying the Dutch presidency had been "a little naive to think Turkey could recognise Cyprus just like that -- that would mean they were in the wrong" in occupying northern Cyprus.

"For the Turks, Cyprus is a question of war and peace," the official said, noting that Erdogan "needed to sell this accord to his constituents"."