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Turkey – EU: Waiting for Godot

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Turkey has been applying for the EU membership since 1987 when Turgut Ozal, the 8th President of Turkey submitted an application. But until today, they have failed to convince the EU as well as the EU member states that they are fit to be a part of the European community via the EU. They are many factors that might have contributed to the failure of Turkey’s application. One of the factors that has been heavily debated is on the historical perspectives based on the culture and identity. The European identity is one of the core importance in discussing about EU membership or enlargement process. The question that is being asked here is whether Turkey has that European identity within their country. In addition if we look at the history of Europe’s relation with the Ottoman Empire in the past would also be a deciding factor too as some Europeans would remember the shadows of conflict between both sides back in the day. The Ottoman Empire and its Muslim identity as well as the Christian Europe might have also shaped the minds of Europeans when Turkey applied for EU membership (Multuler &Taskin, 2007)

“While the cacophony of European contradictions works towards a self-elimination of the EU from the MENA/Euro-Med region, Turkey tries to reinsert itself. The so-called neo-Ottomanism of the current government is steering the country right into the centre of grand bargaining for both Russia and for the US. To this emerging triangular constellation, ambitious and bold PM Erdoğan wishes to beat his own drum. … Past the Arab Spring, Turkey wakes up to itself as the empiric proof that Islam and modernity work together. In fact, it is the last European nation that still has both demographic and economic growth. … Moreover, Ataturk’s Republic is by large and by far the world’s most successful Muslim state: It was never resting its development on oil or other primary-commodity exports, but on a vibrant socio-economic sector and solid democratic institutions. … The very outcome will be felt significantly beyond the Arab region and will reverberate all across the Sunni Muslim world. (Bajrektarevic, Anis, 2016)

Besides the factor of history, culture and identity there were also war and human rights issues that hindered Turkey’s application to the EU. Turkey got involved in a bloody Kurdish revolution in South-East Anatolia during the mid-1980s. Turkey was accused of abusing human rights as well as persecuting the minorities during the revolution. Turkey’s failure to improve human rights and the rights of minorities made it difficult for them to be accepted into the EU. In addition, the EU also raised doubts about Turkey’s ability in implementing the necessary social, political and economic adjustments needed to enter the EU. This was mentioned by the EU back in the 1990s but until today these issues still exist in Turkey. Government-led restrictions on media freedom and freedom of expression in 2015 went hand in- and with efforts to discredit the political opposition and prevent scrutiny of government policies in the run-up to the two general elections (Human Rights Watch, 2015). Recently, President Tayyip Erdogan has been arresting political activists, journalists and other critical of public officials since the attempted military coup happened in 15th July 2016. (Amnesty International, 2016). These are all the issues that has definitely contributed and effected Turkey’s EU membership application.

Another factor that has contributed to the failure of Turkey’s EU membership application is the fact that they currently occupy the northern part of Cyprus till this day. The issue of Cyprus and Turkey became significant when Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 in retaliation to Greece that had already occupied Cyprus since 1964 (Fitzgerald, 2009). At present, the Turkish troops occupy the northern part of Cyprus whereas the southern part of Cyprus is currently independent and has its own government. The connection between the Cyprus issue and the membership of Turkey into the EU became noticeable when Cyprus and Turkey both became candidates for EU membership and it was announced at the 1999 Helsinki Summit. Both countries were destined to join the European Union and at that time, it was confirmed that the situation in Cyprus was not involved in the decision making for the candidature. There were not precondition that was mentioned. But it was important for Turkey to play an active and important role in bringing about a settlement in Cyprus.

But on 1st May 2004, Cyprus was accepted as an EU member state and Turkey remained on the sidelines. The membership of Cyprus in the EU has made in even difficult for Turkey to become a member and it constitutes an important obstacle for EU accession of Turkey. This is because Turkey cannot become a member of the EU without recognizing the Republic of Cyprus.  Since it joining the EU, Cyprus has used its veto to prevent the EU from passing the so-called direct trade regulation needed to lift tariffs on good from Northern Cyprus. (Barysch, 2010). In addition, Cyprus as a member of the EU has also used its veto to block Turkey’s negotiations on accession with the European Union (Kambas, 2015). Cyprus have also said that it will not end its veto for the time being. These shows that the Cyprus issue is definitely one of the stumbling blocks for Turkey to strike any sort of deal with the EU and this deal includes their EU membership application.

Is the Cyprus issue one of the crucial factors that is currently effecting Turkey’s membership application after it became an EU member state in 2004. The first part of the paper will discuss about the Cyprus issue before it became an EU member state whether there were also other factors that affected Turkey’s membership application. The first part will discuss a little about history and then move on to Cyprus issue from 1974 until 2004. The second part will discuss about the Cyprus issue after it became an EU member state in 2004 where it seems that the Cyprus issue was definitely a very crucial factor that is currently affecting Turkey’s membership application.

Greek and Turkish Intervention in 1974

Cyprus became an independent nation in 1960 after both the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots agreed to sign the London-Zurich Agreement (BBC News, 2016). The agreement guaranteed the right of the Turkish minorities that were around 18% of the population as well as the rights of the Greek majority which comprised around 80% of the population at that time. Prior to that, both the Greeks and Turkish Cypriots had demanded the British to give them independence. While Cyprus was already an independent country, their first President of Cyprus Archbishop Makarios said to have proposed constitutional changes called the Akritas Plan that would abolish power sharing in Cyprus and at the same suppress Turkish Cypriots. (Ellis, 2010). There were also sources that said Deputy President of Cyprus and also Turkish Cypriot Community Leader, Fazil Kutchuk wanted to break away from the state and set up a separate administration with the help of Turkey (Charalambous, 2014). These lead to communal violence and Turkey withdrawal from power sharing. There were already problems that were happening internally in Cyprus as both the leaders of Greek and Turkish Cypriots had a feud over the constitution and there was an ethnic divide.

The situation in the Republic of Cyprus became worst in July 1974 when there was an intervention by Greece when they overthrew ruling government of President Archbishop Makarios in Republic of Cyprus (Nugent, 1999). The military coup was led by Nikos Sampson who had had the support of the military regime in Greece as they wanted a union (enosis) to be achieved between

Cyprus and Greece (Smith, 2014). Supporters of President Makarios rejected the idea of union (enosis) as they wanted to be an independent nation. In the same month and year, Turkey also intervened in Republic of Cyprus with operation Atilla. Their reason for intervening is to protect the rights to the Turkish Cypriots (Hislop, 2014). Both coups resulted in a civil war that broke out between both the Greek and Turkish Cypriots with the help of both countries as well. The coup by Greece collapsed and the war had ended in August 1974 as the Turkish military were able to capture one-third of the island and it was in the northern part of Republic of Cyprus. They had occupied Famagusta and the Karpas Peninsula. The intervention in 1974 forced a partition as the island was separated along the Green Line that was already in place since 1963 as it was drawn up by the UN forces due to the ongoing domestic conflicts (Fitzgerald, 2009). Greek Cypriots living in the north were forced out to the south and vice versa for the Turkish Cypriots living in the south when they fled to the north. Republic of Cyprus was now divided into two states

The Divided Cyprus  

Up till today, Republic of Cyprus is divided into two states. The UN Security Council has warned the Turkey to withdraw its troops but they have failed to do so. There are almost 35,000 Turkish troops stationed in the Northern Cyprus (Nugent, 1999). Immediately after the war, Turkish Cypriots established an independent administration. There was an effort for peace talks between both north and south Cyprus but it collapsed and as a result of that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) was formed in 1983. The southern Cyprus was known as The Republic of Cyprus (ROC). The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) is only recognized by Turkey and it not recognized internationally by the UN whereas the Republic of Cyprus is recognized internationally by the UN and not by Turkey (Comfort, 2005). This means that the northern Cyprus depends wholly on Turkey for survival as it does not have ties internationally. Northern Cyprus has so far maintained its existence and rebuffed all attempts by the world body to submit to the current Cyprus government in the south. (Bhutta, 2016). They believed that they are an independent nation of their own.  The Green Line which was supposed to be a temporary ceasefire has not become permanent. People from both sides are not allowed to communicate with each other although they have been effort to change this when the Turkish Cypriots opened the barricades along the Green Line for visitors on both sides of the divide. (Hislop, 2014).

A divided Cyprus has definitely made things more complicated between the two sections of the country as well as the relationship between Turkey and Republic of Cyprus (southern Cyprus). The Republic of Cyprus feels that stationed troops in northern Cyprus is definitely seen as a threat and an occupying force. (Comfort, 2005).

The Cyprus Effect on Turkey’s EU Membership Application until the Year 1990 

Turkey started to eye the EU membership for many decades since it was named as the European Community (EC) back then. Turkey’s official membership application was in 1959 when it applied to become a member of the European Community (EC). The application was rewarded with the Ankara Agreement which was signed by both Turkey and the EU in 1963. (Gerhards & Hans, 2011). The Ankara Agreement was not an agreement that guaranteed full membership yet but it was the first step towards full membership in the future. The Ankara Agreement signed in 1963 was limited to only trade and financial matters. In 1970, there was another milestone in the application when both Turkey and the EU signed the 1970 Additional Protocol establishing a 22 year transnational period leading to customs union (EUEC, 2008). Although protocol was signed, Turkey strategy for economic development was not in line with EC and there was going to a re-negotiation on the deal was signed. At an early stage, Turkey EU membership application was more towards dealing between only the EU and Turkey. There was obvious third party that was involved in making sure that negotiations failed. Turkey’s initial membership application was not yet effected by the Cyprus issue.

The interventions in Cyprus by Greece and Turkey definitely impacted Turkey’s quest for the EC membership. After 1974, it could be said that the EC took a very careful approach in identifying Turkey as a possible candidate for the EC. The division of Cyprus definitely had an effect on Turkey’s membership application. Besides the Cyprus factor, there were also other strong factors that affected the relationship between the EC and Turkey. Both parties had a rough relationship because of the domestic politics in Turkey at that time. Unfavorable domestic political developments in Turkey and most importantly the military coup that happened on 12 September 1980 made Turkey’s possible EC membership totally irrelevant (Grigoriadis, 2003). During this period, Turkey isolated themselves from EU until the civilian government took power in 1983.

There was also another important factor that was effected Turkey’s EU membership application during this time. In 1981, while Turkey was in isolation due to its domestic problems, Greece became an official EU member. This basically meant that as an EU member Greece had veto powers to indirectly stop Turkey from becoming an EU member at that time. As an EU member, Greece was always able to affect EU policies on its benefits with respect to Turkey as well as the Cyprus issue (Basturk, 2013). In addition, Greece’s ascension as the EU member at that time had given Greece the ultimate opportunity to point the finger at Turkey of being an invader in relation to the Cyprus issue which was a breach of the idea of an ‘European’ identity which was based the values of peace and democracy. (Ulusoy, 2009). Despite of all these factors, Turkey applied for full EU membership in 1987 but as expected the EU felt that Turkey was not ready for the membership. In December 1989 the EU decided that it will not accept any members at that moment of time. In terms of Turkey application, the EU said to have had concerns about developmental gap between the EU and Turkey which meant that Turkey could not fulfil its obligations of developing from the EU economic and social policies (Grigoriadis, 2003). In addition to the mentioned reason, the EU also referred to Turkey’s ongoing disagreements with Greece as well as the Cyprus issue. Besides that, the EU was also referring to the fact that the human rights issue and treatment of the minorities in Turkey would still need improvement (Hale, 2000). Thus for this reasons Turkey’s EU membership application in 1987 was rejected by the EU.

It could be said that at this point of time the influence of Greece in the EU could be seen as even more vital factor than the Cyprus issue itself. This is because the issue related to Cyprus was initially being strongly voiced out by Greece rather than the EU. We could analyze that after Greece’s ascension into the EU in 1981, the voice on the Cyprus issue by Greece became more vocal thus it definitely affected Turkey’s EU membership application. The Greek policy towards Turkey’s membership was always portrayed as a crucial factor for the lack of progress in the EU Turkey relations. In the minds of many Turkish citizens, Greece was the only obstacle to the accession of their country into the EU although Turkey was not eligible yet for the membership during the 1980s and 1990s (Georgiades, 2000). But by looking at it on a different angle, it could also be said that Turkey’s domestic politics also played a major role in their membership application. The military regime in Turkey during their isolation between 1980-1983 gave the window of opportunity for Greece to become an EU member and influence the EU in some way.

The situation might have been a little different if Turkey did not isolate themselves. They might have influenced the EU too in making sure that Greece was not a member of the EU. Although it seems that the Cyprus issue played a major role in Turkey EU membership application, but it can be argued that it played an indirectly role altogether as the ascension of Greece into the EU and Turkey domestic politics played a more crucial role during this period of time until 1990 that ultimately affected Turkish EU membership application.

The Cyprus Effect a Non Crucial Factor between 1990 to 2004  

Turkey EC membership application seemed to have hit a new blow when Republic of Cyprus applied to become the member of the EU as well in 1990. The application by EU definitely shocked the Turkey and northern Cyprus. Turkey feared that they would face another obstacle if Republic of Cyprus became an EU member. Turkey insisted that the application should not be allowed by the EU as it is against the International Law and the constitution of the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey received advice from international law expects. Article 8 of the Republic of Cyprus states that Republic of Cyprus cannot be a member of an international organization unless both Turkey and Greece are a member of it too (Mandelson, 1997). But this failed to convince the

EC as they taught that the issue of Cyprus’ accession is an eminently political debate and law can adapt itself to any political solution. But looking at it from another point of view, Turkey as also not abiding by the law as they were not following the European Court of Human Rights by not respecting the property rights of the Greek Cypriots in northern Cyprus (Suvarierol, 2003). It could be seen that Turkey one way or another was practicing double standard.

But looking at it clearly, the Cyprus issue was again not the crucial point here that was hindering Turkey’s EU membership application. The collapse of the communism in 1992 definitely had an impact on Turkey’s membership (EUEC, 2008). The communist bloc of the Soviet Union ended hence granting opportunity for the EU to establish a European bloc within the Central and Western European countries. In addition to that also, the countries that were finally released of communism were also performing poorly in terms of economy hence it needed all the help they could get from the European community via the EU. These countries were also given priorities because they were seemed to more culturally part of Europe than Turkey. This resulted in the prioritization of the Central and Western European countries as member states and Turkey fell down the picking order.

Besides the fall of the communist bloc, continuous pressure from Greece also contributed to Turkey’s EU membership application. The Copenhagen Criteria which was discussed in 1993 became Greece’s attack on Turkey. Greece used it as a tool to point fingers at Turkey. Greece criticized Turkey’s miserable human and minority rights record as well as their military influenced democracy.(Grigoriadis, 2003) Turkey who initially failed to meet the political criteria choose to then focus on the economic criteria. The EU gave priority to Turkey to complete the negotiations of the EU-Turkey customs union. But Greece again showed their influence when they used their veto policy to block the customs union agreement between Turkey and the EU (Grigoriadis. 2003). Greece seemed to be using the veto for its own national interest but they were not going to be convinced easily. Besides that, Greece were also very influential in making sure that Cyprus became one of the candidates that would join the EU. The deal was that Greece would lift its veto over Turkey’s customs union with the EU in return for the EU’s agreement to start accession talks with the Greek Cypriots on behalf of the whole island of Cyprus (Oguzlu, 2002).

Turkey’s customs union agreement came into force in January 1996 (EUEC, 2008) after Greece lifted its veto on the customs union in March 1995 (Suvarierol, 2003). Greece was influential once again when the 1999 Helsinki Summit finally granted candidateship to Turkey. This is because there was a precondition where Turkey would need to resolve their issue with Greece before starting EU membership negotiation(Oguzlu, 2002). In the same summit, Cyprus was also given candidateship without any pre-condition on their internal issue. The EU Accession Partnership Document for Turkey was publicized by the European Commission in November 2000. Once again Greece stood in the way of Turkey’s EU membership as they continued to pursue their agenda when they persuaded 14 fellow EU members to add another condition to the EU Accession Partnership Document by adding that Turkey should also resolve the Cyprus issue before negotiating EU membership (Franz, 2000). This generally shows that the Cyprus issue was again only an indirect factor to Turkey’s EU Membership because Greece were making all the important decisions directly. They did not only use the Cyprus issue as tool but also managed to influence other members states as well to make sure that Turkey was unsuccessful in their membership application.

It is not fair also to point fingers only at Greece because there were other EU member states too that did not want Turkey to become an EU member. German Foreign Minister at that time had an opinion that Turkey still have a long way but are already in line to be in EU but they were still lacking behind in terms of human rights referring to the Kurdish situation and also stressed about

Turkey’s relationship with Greece and Cyprus as well as some economic problems (Hurriyet Daily News, 1997). Besides that, during the Luxembourg Summit in 1997 Greece, Germany and Luxembourg opposed Turkey’s candidature for the EU (Muftuler, 2003). In addition there were also concerns among the EU member states regarding the distribution of votes in the Council of Minister as well as the number of seats in the European Parliament. This is because both criteria’s are based on size of population of the member states. The concern here was that Turkey might have the second highest population after Germany if it becomes an EU member state. It would mean that Turkey could influence the decision making in the European Union because they would have the second most number of votes in the European Parliament (Muftuler, 2003). The EU member states excluded Turkey as they wanted to make some changes to the population voting system if possible during the Nice Treaty. As a whole the Cyprus issue is once again not crucial as they were definitely other factors that hindered Turkey’s EU membership application. Concerns about Turkey’s population and the influence that they could have over the EU was definitely another dominant factor that made EU hesitant to grant EU membership to Turkey at that point of time.

Another important factor also during this time is when Turkey failed to live by the Copenhagen Criteria politically but they were brilliant economically as they achieved almost all the criteria. The EU Commission Progress Report in the year 2000 and 2001 demonstrated that the political aspect of the Copenhagen Criteria was one of the challenges faced by Turkey. There were still no improvements in terms of human rights although steps were taken to improve them. In addition, there was still problems related to the democratic structure of Turkey as civilian control over the government was yet to be addressed that time.  As a whole, the period the between 1990 to 2004 could be concluded in a way that the Cyprus issue was crucial in Turkey’s EU membership application. The Cyprus issue was only an indirectly as they had no prior say in whatever that was happening in the EU. The crucial factor here was Greece as they played a major role in the decision making process as they used the veto power to their advantage to block EU-Turkey deals.

The Cyprus Effect after the Year 2004   

The Republic Cyprus became an EU member on 1st May 2004. The Cyprus that became an EU member is the only the southern part of Cyprus. This is because the “Annan Plan” that was presented by the United Nations did work out as expected. The “Annan Plan” received mixed reactions from the southern and northern Cyprus. The initial reactions by Turkish Cypriots are that they were not in favor of the whole plan (Suvarierol, 2003). But the Turkish Cypriots began to grow into the plan and basically started to support “Annan Plan”. Civil societies in the Turkish part of Cyprus held demonstrations in support of a unified Cyprus. The Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktas who was against unification was voted out of office in the December 2003 election (Kyris, 2012). It was for the first time in history that a pro-unification party won the election. The election results definitely showed that the Turkish Cypriots were definitely routing for unification as well a future in the EU. In general, the Turkish Cypriots approved the Annan Plan and was ready to unify their country.

However at the other side of the island in Cyprus, the Greeks Cypriots initially supported the “Annan Plan” whole heartedly without any shadow of a doubt. But elections in the 2003 changes the whole scenario when Tassos Papadopoulos became the new leader of Republic of Cyprus. The new leader was pretty much against the whole “Annan Plan” and wanted to make sure that the Greek Cypriots voted against unification of the island.   Papadopoulos started to create conditions to make sure the people reject the UN Resolution Plan with the help of many political and social elites created (Anastasiou, 2007). Besides that, a few days before the referendum Papadopoulos appeared to be emotionally telling his people through the television that the Greeks

Cypriots should reject the “Annan Plan” (Kyris, 2012). On 24th April 2004, On April 24, 2004, just a week from Cyprus’ entry into the EU, the results of the voting were out as 64.9% of the Turkish Cypriots voted in favor of the “Annan plan” and they definitely wanted unification while but in a turn of events the Greek Cypriots rejected the “Annan Plan” 75.8% of Greek Cypriots voted against the plan (Ulosoy, 2008). As a result of this, The Republic of Cyprus remained a divided island as only the Southern part of the island entered the European Union (Basturk, 2013). This was definitely a blow to Turkey as this was the make or break decision that might have given the green light for Turkey EU membership.

The accession of only southern Cyprus into the EU definitely hampered the Turkey’s membership application into the EU. The Cyprus issue became one the major and crucial factors that affect Turkey’s negotiation process in becoming an EU member. Cyprus as an EU member now has direct power in term of veto to block Turkey from becoming an EU member. In addition, Cyprus also has the power to block any sort of deals in between Turkey and EU. The discussion over Turkey’s EU membership application started in 2005 where there needs to be a screening process for 35 chapters. Between 2005 and 2014, Turkey has completed the screening process in 33 of the chapters required for its accession while the balance of the other two chapters does not require negotiation. One of the important elements that is slowing the progress and making it difficult for the Turkish EU accession is the fact that 17 of the chapters remain blocked either by the EU or member states individually (Dagdeverenis, 2014). In the case of Turkey, delays and slow progress in discussion are mainly due to the Cyprus issue. This is because the EU Council have blocked atleast 8 chapters in December 2006. This was done when Turkey refused to recognize Cyprus and to ratify the Additional Protocol of the Ankara Association Agreement by not allowing Cyprus vessels and aircrafts to use Turkey’s ports and airports (Barysch, 2010). This block by the EU Council was due to the Cyprus issue that definitely became a crucial factor for Turkey’s EU membership application after 2004 as Cyprus became a member of the EU.

In addition to the 8 chapters blocked by the EU Council, the Cyprus issue again appears as even Cyprus chose to veto at least 6 chapters that is required for Turkey’s accession into the EU (Chislett, 2015). These six chapter are related to six chapters: (1) freedom of movement for workers; (2) energy; (3) judiciary and fundamental rights; (4) justice, freedom and security; (5) education and culture; and (6) foreign, security and defense policy (Chislett, 2015). Hence this means that a total of 14 chapters are blocked due to the issue of Cyprus and this has again slowed down negotiation for the accession process for Turkey. This shows that the veto power that Cyprus received after entering EU in 2004 has now become an important tool to block and slow down Turkey’s EU membership application. In addition to that, the failure of Turkey in recognizing Cyprus as an EU member has also contributed to the slow process of Turkey’s membership into the EU which is definitely closely related to the Cyprus issue. This proves that after 2004, the Cyprus issue has definitely become an important and crucial factor that has impacted Turkey’s EU membership application.

Besides the blocking of chapters by the EU Council and Cyprus in relation to the Cyprus issue, since becoming an EU member Cyprus has definitely become aggressive towards Turkey.

In 2014, the Greek Cypriots said that it would file a complaint to the EU leaders to block Turkey’s attempts in joining the European Union (Middle East Eye, 2014). This was in response to Turkey’s gas exploration expedition done in the waters claimed by Cyprus. Turkey said to have send a warship into the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) to conduct seismic surveys which was definitely a threat to the safety of Cyprus. President Nicos Anastasiades said that formal complaints will also be lodged with the U.N. Division for Oceans and Law of the Sea, the International Maritime Organization and possibly with the U.N. Security Council (CNS News, 2014). This again shows that the Cyprus issue has definitely become a crucial factor because since becoming an EU member in 2004 Cyprus has been very brace and aggressive towards Turkey and are definitely making it hard for Turkey to become an EU members states.

In 2015, Cyprus showed their aggressiveness again when they pledged to block Turkey’s stalled accession negotiations to join the EU. This is because Turkey has not done enough to reunite the divided island of the Republic of Cyprus. In order to restart negotiation, there needs to be a consent from all EU members (Zalan, 2015). Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides mentioned that Cyprus is sticking to the veto for as long as Turkey doesn’t live up to its obligations.

The Greek Cypriot administration threatened to block Turkey’s bid until the Turkish “occupation” of northern Cyprus is ended (TRT World, 2015). This act by Cyprus again shows how far does the Cyprus issue is currently the crucial factor towards Turkey’s EU membership process. The accession of Cyprus into the EU has given it power to basically rule over Turkey in their bid for an EU membership. The 14 chapters that are currently blocked and vetoed definitely shows that the Cyprus issue is a crucial factor towards Turkey’s dream of being an EU member since 2004. In addition to that, Cyprus’s bravery and confidence after 2004 also shows that they are not afraid of Turkey as they hold a huge advantage over them. Although there are other factors that affect Turkey’s EU membership application after 2004, I would personally argue that the Cyprus issue is the most crucial factor that stands in the way of Turkey and its membership application to the EU.

Is Godot About to Come ?

In conclusion, the Cyprus issue was not significant or crucial in Turkey’s EU membership application before it became an EU member in 2004. This is because the Cyprus issue was only an indirect factor rather than a direct factor. During the initial phase of Turkey’s membership application there was more two way discussion without any external interference as it was not yet influenced by the Cyprus issue. Later on, it seemed that Greece was having a bigger say than Cyprus when talking about the EU membership application. This happened after Turkey isolated themselves for three year which paved the way for Greece to become an EU member. The Greece factor was even more crucial during this stage rather than the Cyprus factor as they were voicing out for Cyprus. Between 1990 and 2004, the Cyprus issue was once again not crucial. This is because it was the end of Cold War and countries from Central and Western Europe were being prioritized as possible candidates. The EU wanted to unify the former communist in one community. Turkey was on sidelines as other European countries were preferred. Besides that, there were continuous pressure from Greece in terms of pin pointing Turkey human rights record as well as their military democracy. There were also other EU members states that did not favor Turkish it would become a member. One of their concern was Turkey might be able to influence the European Parliament if it entered the EU because it will have more seats in parliament due to their population. The Cyprus issue is not much of a crucial factor here during this period.

Once Cyprus became an EU member in 2004, the troubles came along for Turkey. This is because the Cyprus issue became a crucial factor that affected Turkey’s EU membership directly this time. Cyprus used its veto to block 6 chapters that were important to make sure that Turkey’s EU membership negotiation could take place. But due to this veto, Cyprus has basically slowed down the negotiation process. In addition, since becoming a member Cyprus have been brave to stand up to Turkey. This is because they now have the power to veto Turkey-EU membership negotiation just like they did in 2015. This was because Turkey was not taking steps to end their occupation in Northern Cyprus. It is indeed proven that the Cyprus issue only became a crucial and dominat factor after 2004 once it became an EU member. The veto power that they currently have place an important in making sure that Turkey does not become an EU member and Cyprus definitely stands in the way of Turkey’s EU membership even in the future.

Aaron Denison, Research Assistant at the Kuala Lumpur-based Asia-Europe Institute. His research interest is on Inter-Korean Relations, Regionalism in the European Union (EU), as well as on ASEAN and Asia-Pacific.

Europe

Ммm is a new trend in the interaction between the EU and Turkey:”Silence is golden” or Musical chair?

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sofa gate erdogan

On April 6, a protocol collapse occurred during a meeting between President of Turkey R. Erdogan, President of the European Council S. Michel and head of the European Commission, Ur. von der Leyen. Let us remind you that during their meeting in the conference room she did not have enough chair, and she was forced to sit on the sofa opposite the Turkish Foreign Minister M. Çavuşoğlu, who, according to the diplomatic protocol, occupies a lower rank. This incident (a video showing the confusion of Ur. von der Leyen and her mmm sound, which was cleverly picked up by the media) quickly spread across the media and social networks. This incident provoked not only a number of high-profile comments, but also political and economic consequences for a number of countries.

This story is a double bottom box. On the one hand, there is a protocol error in the organization of the meeting between the EU and Turkey. On the other hand, there is a sharp statement by the Italian head of state about the Turkish president.

We propose to consider this case from two points of view: violation of the protocol and bilateral interaction between Italy and Turkey.

Let’s start with the protocol. Based on the general rules of the protocol, let’s honestly answer the following questions.

1) is it right for the head of state to give up a seat opposite the national flag (respect for the symbols of the state);

2) what is more important – position, diplomatic rank or gender;

3) Who should take the “EU chair” based on the political hierarchy of the Union – the head of the European Council or the European Commission?

Note that both sides – the EU and Turkey – blame each other’s protocol service. EU protocol chief Dominique Marro responded in a statement on Thursday that diplomats were not given access to the conference room in advance because, as they were told, “it was too close to Erdogan’s office.” Turkish officials have agreed to a separate request to add seating for von der Leyen during the reception, he said.

Turkey was accused of “protocol machism.” However, the officials of the protocol services of Turkey and the EU “met before the official visit of the heads, and their wishes were taken into account,” says Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu.

But the shifting of responsibility continues. Brussels insisted that staff were denied a final check of the press conference room. It was soon revealed that another sensational accident was threatened during the official dinner: the table was laid for 5 people on each side, and in front there were two honorary chairs, one for Michel and the other for Erdogan, while a smaller one was reserved for von der Leyen, to the right of Michel. Two diplomatic advisers accompanied Michel to the table, and von der Leyen was left alone.

Michel  was also criticized for not standing up for her. He first wrote an explanation on his Facebook page, in which he did not apologize, but presented his vision of the situation. But as things continued to escalate on Thursday, he went on to say on Belgian TV LN24: “I deeply regret the image created and the impression of a kind of disdain for the President of the European Commission and women in general.” “At that moment I was convinced that any reaction could seem paternalistic. Perhaps it was my mistake, ”he said. “In addition, there was substantial work to be done at the meeting, and I was convinced that the response would lead to a much more serious incident that would affect relations with Turkey.” An interesting commentary by J.K. Juncker, who wrote that he also often found himself on the couch (thereby making it clear that the situation was not critical). This situation could be resolved through diplomatic channels. But, unfortunately, it has received an unusual development.

Now let’s move on to a political analysis.

According to the head of the group of socialists in the European Parliament Garcia Perez Irace, the incident is related to discrimination against women in Turkey. A few weeks ago, on March 20, the president passed a decree authorizing Turkey’s withdrawal from the 2011 Istanbul Convention against Violence against Women, which obliges the governments that have joined it to pass legislation aimed at combating domestic violence. That is, the protocol error received a political color and took on a new light from the perspective of gender politics. However, one should not forget about the cultural and religious differences between the parties to the conflict. It is curious that if Michel gave up the chair to Ursula, he could be criticized from the point of view of gender equality and even, if hypertrophied, accused of sexism. It is also worth paying attention to the absence of harsh statements from the EU, which is interested in Turkey, which restrains the flow of migrants. . Yet the crisis in terms of maritime borders with Greece and Cyprus and the agreement between Israel, Greece, Egypt and Cyprus for the construction of the EastMed gas pipeline have become such important concerns for Turkish interests that in February 2020 Ankara has re-proposed the usual blackmail and once again opening the borders with Greece for Syrian migrants, provoking an immediate European reaction. Since last December, the European Commission has tried relentlessly to mend the tear, unlocking the last tranche of aid to Ankara, equal to 780 million euros of the 6 billion promised, and opening the dialogue for future billion-dollar agreements with Erdoğan in migration theme.

The behavior of M. Draghi seems even more inexplicable. The statement by the head of the Italian government M. Draghi, where he allowed himself to call Erdogan a dictator, cost the country 70 million euros of suspended contracts (the purchase of 10 helicopters from an Italian company Leonardo). In turn, Erdogan is waiting for an official apology from M. Draghi. Whatever the situation, from the point of view of etiquette and protocol, such statements by officials are perceived as inappropriate. There are now 48 large Italian private equity companies in Turkey, such as Unicredit, Generali, Mps, Fiat, Ansaldo Energia and others.On the other hand, according to representatives of Mediobanca Securities, it is unlikely that this diplomatic incident will lead to the cancellation of the contract with Turkey. Moreover, the investment bank added: “This is a relatively small contract for Leonardo: it represents 0.5% of the group’s planned ordering for 2021”, which amounts to approximately 14 billion euros.

This is not the first crisis in Italian-Turkish relations. In ’98 the Ocalan crisis, during the D’Alema government produced violent reactions and a boycott of Italian products in Turkey, however quickly overcome by the subsequent Amato government and even more so by the Berlusconi government starting from 2001. Those were the years of the great contracts for Salini Impregilo’s new bridges over the Bosphorus, for supplies by the Finmeccanica group and the purchase of local banks by Unicredit. But, between ups and downs, the history of economic relations between Rome and Ankara came from afar, from the 1960s when large Italian groups such as Fiat, Pirelli, Cementir had focused heavily on Turkey as the ideal platform to conquer new markets in the eastern Mediterranean.

In fact, the dispute between Turkey and Italy stems from tensions in Libya and the eastern Mediterranean over gas fields. And the European Union could play a key role in supporting Rome, but at the moment none of the EU representatives supported M. Draghi’s words, only Italian populist parties supported the head of state (which had also previously expressed the idea of leaving the EU).

Against the background of all the facts sounded, the behavior of the head of Italy remains the most interesting case. Non-fatal, in its essence, the protocol incident provoked a verbal dive by Draghi and Erdogan, which could cost Rome tens of millions of euros in direct economic losses. But it is not this separate fact that is interesting, but the fact that Italian politicians have recently taken a number of drastic steps and statements that have no reliable explanation. It is appropriate here to recall the spy scandal with Russian diplomats, which could be interpreted as a decrease in the level of interaction between Italy and its longtime trusted partner. Then many assumed that this was a manifestation of the “Atlanticist course” and the rapprochement with the United States of the new cabinet of ministers. But in the situation with the chair, we are talking about a conflict with one of the active members of NATO and a key ally of Washington in the region. And here Draghi’s position evokes the very remark of W. von der Leyen – “ummm” – bewilderment that runs like a red thread through the entire incident and its consequences. What is it? An attempt to show Draghi’s political subjectivity and consistency? A demonstrative rupture of the achievements and economic ties of predecessors in order to prove their independence? Agreements with Washington pending new contracts and cooperation programs and acting in line with these hopes? Or maybe just a misunderstanding of what the Italian people expect from the next prime minister and this is an attempt to find something that will cause an increase in the level of confidence on the part of the Italian political forces? In any case, there is concern that if Draghi continues in this vein, his reign may prove even more inglorious than that of many of his predecessors.

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Europe

The Man Who Warned Us First About Climate Change

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A billboard at Piccadilly Circus pays tribute to the late Prince Philip. Garry Knight/Flickr

Among the first to warn us of global warming, he used the term greenhouse gas to describe the increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.  That was in the 1960s and it was dismissed as a cranky notion.  Where he lived, he had a large study lined with books which he actually read; perhaps one reason for the mushrooming of ideas.  

The story begins in Corfu, Greece where he was born.  His very prominent family was turfed out of the country and settled in France.  After early schooling, he was sent to a private boarding school in the UK.  

Founded by German-Jewish educator Kurt Hahn in 1934, Gordonstoun School was new  with new ideas when he attended.  An equal emphasis on mind and body, it challenged students mentally and physically, the latter far more than at other such private schools.  A strapping boy who was also extremely intelligent, he loved the place — later his son was to hate it.  Hahn wrote of him that he would do very well any task assigned to him.

He went on to the naval academy and finished at the top of his class, doing the same at later naval exams and becoming the youngest Lieutenant in the navy.  Given command of a ship, he ran it like clockwork but a certain lack of sensitivity to others also came through:  the crew were driven ragged and hated serving under him.  He loved the navy and always loved the sea; indeed it was a sacrifice to give up his naval career when he married but it was incompatible in his new role for his wife was a very important personage.          

Studying in England, I could not fail to notice his frequent presence on newspaper front pages, even though my own interests then did not focus on the news of the day.  He seemed to set up awards for all kinds of excellence. He wanted British industry to shine, young people to deliver their best and so on.  And of course, he was invariably presenting awards to the winners.

A sportsman, he was also out there playing polo with his team, or at equestrian meets or playing cricket at charity events, or sailing which he clearly loved.  His uncle saw India through a hurried independence and a bloody partition.  Uncle Dickie, as he was called by the royal children, was a valued presence until killed by the IRA (Irish Republican Army) in a senseless bomb attack that lost them public sympathy.  

The country’s leaders kept him busy and he was sent to numerous countries representing the queen, most often to former colonies in an era with a rash of newly independent countries.  Yes, his name was Philip, titled Prince of Greece and Denmark, and his wife was Queen Elizabeth II.  

Prince Philip’s royal bloodline (like the Queen’s) was German — Battenberg the family last name having been changed to Mountbatten during the First World War.  His sisters married Germans and remained in Germany during the Second World War.  They were not invited to his wedding to a very much in love Princess Elizabeth.  He had been the longest serving consort of any British monarch when he died a few days ago.   

Prince Philip’s travels were also notorious for gaffes and his eye for attractive females — middle class morality be damned.  A definite lacuna in sensitivity was more than evident.  Meeting a group of Nigerians resplendent in their long colorful national dress, he remarked, “Ready for bed, are we?”  to their embarrassment.

Yet, all in all, a very full life.

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Europe

Sino-Serbian relations under the “microscope”: China’s footprint In Serbia

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Over the years, the Sino-Serbian foreign relations have straightened to a very high level, with China establishing itself as a valuable ally to Serbia. Since the recognition of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 by Yugoslavia and the formal establishment of diplomatic relations between the two states in 1955, both countries have been on warm relations that soon transformed into a strategic alliance. However, this relationship has given an uneasy feeling to the political elite in the West that sees this relationship as China’s efforts to expand its influence into the Balkan region and undermine the efforts of the EU for stabilization. On the other hand, some may argue that this uneasy feeling that the West is experiencing is due to its own failures of constant neglect and poor leadership towards Serbia, which has taken action in its own hands. Can we really say that the situation in Serbia is about Chinese imperialism, or is it a case that the West failed Serbia over and over again and now sees its diplomatic failures backfiring back to them?

Sino-Serbian relations in retrospective

The relationship between both countries has always been on a warm status, but the potential for an even stronger relationship came during the 1990s in the so-called Yugoslavian Wars. The People’s Republic of China was critical against the U.S and NATO forces bombing campaign in Serbia while it supported the decisions of President Milošević, describing them as vital decisions for preserving the territorial integrity of the Federal Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, against the Albanian separatists and the UCK (Kosovo Liberation Army) terrorists. The opposition against NATO intensified after NATO warplanes bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese journalists. Although the West saw it as a mistake, this gave a clear signal to Serbia and China that the Western aggression against them could provide them with the potential of rebuilding their relations in the 21st century, in something more than just strong diplomatic ties.

Under the presidency of Aleksandar Vučić, Serbia has seen closer cooperation with China, especially at an economic level. For years now, both countries have cooperated in various industries. Since 2012, Serbia has received at least $10bn of Chinese investment in the country, changing rapidly its economic profile. Serbia is also part of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, which allowed Serbia to provide an investment-friendly environment towards China without any EU regulations, making the country the largest economy in the Western Balkans. Also, China has changed the tourism industry in Serbia. Since 2017, Chinese citizens can visit Serbia visa-free. This initiative allowed the country to improve its industry with a rise of at least 36% from Chinese visitors. Also, Serbia as a hub of investments does not only concentrate on tourism. China has invested a tremendous amount of money in its infrastructure and energy sectors and projects such as the Budapest-Belgrade Railway while Chinese firms have acquired various steel plants and coal mines, such as the Smederevo steel plant and a copper mine is in Bor, east of Serbia. These actions by China have kept afloat the Serbian economy while saving more than 10.000 job positions, highlighting the reconstruction of the country and making China the most important trading partner for Serbia in the 21st century.

Politics, the pandemic, and the success of Serbia in the game of geopolitical chess

Apart from close economic ties, both countries share a common interest in the political arena. Since the 1990’s China has been a close political ally of Serbia, supporting its territorial integrity while not recognizing the pseudostate of Kosovo. On the other hand, Serbia has been supportive of China’s decisions to safeguard its interests in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Xinjiang, agreeing with the One-China policy that the People’s Republic of China has been advocating for years. The relationship between the two countries has been seen negatively by the West, with the EU being skeptical about China’s intentions in the region. A resolution from the EU parliament on the 2019-2020 Commission report on Serbia expressed the concern over the increased economic ties between the two states, and China’s questionable investments that are lacking transparency, while also pointing out that the investors in Serbia have failed to carry out important environmental assessments. “With this behavior, Serbia, a candidate country for EU accession is jeopardizing its progress”, were the statements from the EU side, that sees the growing influence of China in the region, as a threat to its own interests. However, Serbia is not bowing to the threats of the EU, as it sees the European bloc constantly neglecting Serbia’s needs and undermining its national interests.

With the inclusion of China as a major player in the Balkans, some analysts present an interesting argument that China has overthrown the Russian Federation from the position of the most important ally of Serbia. Historically, Russia and Serbia have seen very close ties, and it’s unlikely that the inclusion of China as an ally to Serbia will jeopardize that. However, news organizations and analysts from the West found an opportunity to provide an environment of division within Serbia. Understandably, Serbia seeks to improve its position in the world, and having more than one powerful allies, especially one that has the fastest growing economy in the world, will benefit the rhetoric of Aleksandar Vučić, who has demonstrated to the Serbian public that the country has drastically changed and it has overcome the previous humiliations and mistreatment from the West. It seems that the West is terrified of the potential growth of Serbia, a country that once was brutally bombarded by U.S and NATO forces, and now has the chance to dominate the geopolitical scene in the Balkans without even being part of the EU. The country represents an open door for China in Europe, allowing the country to fully take advantage of the various infrastructure and energy projects that are presented. Serbia is building a new lasting alliance, and as much as the West wants to undermine this relationship by creating political divisions about who is the biggest ally of Serbia, they miss the big point. The country now has more allies and more influence in the Balkans and feels it’s time not to take the West seriously. For years the EU, in particular, has underestimated Serbia while showing full support for the illegitimate state of Kosovo, and portraying the country as this evil entity and abuser of human rights.

Another important parameter in the evaluation of the current situation in the world. When COVID-19 spread all over the world, we witnessed a phenomenal collapse of our daily lives, with many businesses closing and the governments around the world putting an effort to recover from the virus. Serbia, unlike other countries in Europe, had a successful vaccination campaign and managed to win the geopolitical game of chess, simply by not playing the game. For Serbia, vaccination was never a political game and that’s why they managed to deal with it better. As prime minister Ana Brnabic stated: “Whether vaccines come from China, Russia, the EU or the U.S, we don’t care, as long as they’re safe and we get them as soon as possible. For us, vaccination is a healthcare issue, not a geopolitical matter”. Just by this statement, Serbia managed to understand the dangers of politicizing the vaccines and decided to focus on the health of its citizens, effectively overcoming the growing danger of the virus.

The fight is not over yet, but unlike the EU, Serbia set its priorities straight, and in a way, revealed the failed bureaucratic system of the EU, that chooses politics over the health of its citizens. Although Serbia received both the Russian vaccine Sputnik V and the Chinese Sinopharm, analysts have focused on the importance of Chinese help. For the simple reason that the help from Russia was expected, because of the historic, cultural, and religious ties between both states. The help from China was something that shifted the balance in Serbia, and the country managed to be in a better position compared to other countries in the Balkans and the EU. Both China and Serbia made it clear from the beginning that they will support each other in these harsh times. A few months ago, the Serbian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ivica Dačić, was in Beijing, declaring his support in any way possible to China. In his statement, he said: “You didn’t fear NATO bombs, my visit shows we’re not afraid of the virus”; again pointing out the importance of this alliance that dates years back. The EU might be skeptical about China’s intentions, but one thing is for sure; they did not provide help when needed, proving once again that European solidarity is a fairy tale.

The Chinese impact on Serbia: Voices from within the country

Although the government of Aleksandar Vučić has made it very clear to the Serbian public that foreign investments from China are a positive step towards the socio-economic transformation of the country, some people within Serbia have shared their thoughts about whether this can bring a positive or a negative impact for Serbia. Dragan Djilas, the former mayor of Belgrade and president of the Freedom & Justice Party in Serbia, expresses his criticism of the political decisions of Aleksandar Vučić. In his view, democracy in Serbia does not exist anymore, and there is only one man to blame, Aleksandar Vučić. Djilas also points out that the growing relationship with China has been transformed into a dependent, one-way relationship, where China acts as a colonizer. “China operates in Serbia, the same way it does in the continent of Africa. It seems that now we have a new Big Brother”, referring to the new status quo, where Russia is not seen as the only powerful ally that Serbia can rely on. For Mr. Djilas, this dependency on China will only jeopardize any potential ascension in the European Union. His point is shared by many within Serbia that see this dichotomy in society that wants to move more on the West yet again it makes agreements and treaties with a non-democratic and autocratic government, and it seems that Aleksandar Vučić follows the same path. “Our struggle is focused on Europe, which should finally realize that we want to establish a free and democratic society and end the denigrating process in Serbia established by Aleksandar Vučić”, were the words of Dragan Djilas, who sees China slowly overtaking his country.

On the other hand, Djordje Terek, an analyst at the Center for International Public Policy in Belgrade, does not see the involvement of China in the Western Balkans, especially in Serbia, as a new phenomenon. “China, similarly to Russia, Germany or the U.S., has its own interest in the Western Balkans region and it has been present there for a while”. If we view this statement from a realistic point of view, we can make sense of China’s intentions in Serbia being no different than the intentions of any other country that revolves around the philosophy of realpolitik. Also, there is an interesting mention of Serbia’s new role in the region, especially after the Belgrade Summit. As Terek points out: “Serbia, as a potential EU member state, was given a prominent role within China’s BRI initiative as it was demonstrated at the summit in Belgrade. It is the strategy based on the penetration into the EU market that China centralized around Belgrade. With that being said, Serbia is one of the compelling China’s attributes in the Western Balkans and Europe as well. In 2009, Serbia and China signed a strategic partnership agreement and in 2013, Serbia hosted a 16+1 summit in Belgrade where $900 billion infrastructure projects were promised to the region”.

However, although the government of Aleksandar Vučić is keen to demonstrate how China’s investments have been crucial for Serbia, the European Union is still by far the most crucial contributor in foreign direct investments, comprising at least 70% of FDI in the country. With this remark, some may argue that indeed China is an important ally to Serbia, but the EU is still around, reminding the country that it is still a pending member for EU accession. It seems that the presence of China in Serbia will only be positive if Aleksandar Vučić manages to balance both of his commitments to the EU and China. After all, Serbia still wants to be part of the European Union and not merge with the People’s Republic of China. In some final remarks, Djordje Terek thinks that if the government of Serbia wants any success to come out of this situation it needs to evaluate the situation delicately. “While Serbia has been actively pursuing EU membership, the current state of affairs tells us that Vučić uses the geopolitical window to further deviate from EU integrations, while continuously sitting on two chairs, and only time will show if that will be beneficial for Serbia”.

One other aspect of China’s involvement in Serbia, that has troubled the citizens of the country, are the environmental issues that have emerged since China’s increased investment in the steel factories and the mines in the east of the country. In the area of Bor, where a Chinese company has recently acquired the ownership of a mining facility, there have been reports of increased pollution in the area, with environmental agencies being concerned about the high levels of sulfur dioxide and arsenic in the air. Besides the air pollution issue, concerns have been raised about the water pollution of the area. Near the mining facility, in the village of Metovnica, locals have seen the impact of the mine activities, in shortage of water and water pollution. For analyst Djordje Terek, this increased pollution in the area rapidly plummeted in the last seven years, potentially making Serbia the global leader in air pollution. “The Chinese investments in the steel factory in Smederevo and the copper mine in Bor, have made the people in the area wear face masks even before the beginning of the pandemic. It seems that the ties of the Serbian government with China is on higher priority rather than the environmental damage”. The mayor of Bor, Aleksandar Milikic, quickly dismissed the allegations of environmental damage and characterized any kind of protest in the area regarding this subject as the work of political actors wishing to benefit from it. As for the people in Bor, they can see the damage to the environment, but many of them point out the positive aspect of the Chinese investments, where people can find a good-paying job at the mines. Given the absence of work in the area in recent years, these investments have more positives than negatives for them.

Whether we would look at the Chinese involvement in Serbia as a positive or a negative thing, one thing is for sure. The geopolitical profile of the country is changing, and Serbia can benefit from the increased investments in its country. However, Aleksandar Vučić must be careful how he handles the situation inside Serbia. The increased protests and the uneasy feeling of its citizens regarding the environment, should not be aspects that are overlooked by the government, Nevertheless, with the global pandemic devastating many countries in Europe and around the world, Serbia has demonstrated its will to improve the healthcare situation in the country by not focusing on the vaccine politics and as a result winning, one might say the political chess game that the West found itself playing. Only time will show if Aleksandar Vučić manages to hold on, on both the West and the East, in a rare situation where Serbia seems to have the upper hand as to how the country must advance now, trying to reshape the international image about Serbia.

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