THE CYPRUS ISSUE: PROSPECTS OF A SETTLEMENT IN THE EU CONTEXT
Eastern Mediterranean University, North Cyprus, 12-13 November 2009
The Cyprus issue dominated Turkey’s foreign policy for decades and consumed the energy of many actors in political arena, bureaucracy and government. The accession of the Greek Cypriots to the EU and Turkey’s negotiations process added a new dimension to this issue and made it an EU issue at the same time.
The accession process of the Greek Cypriots to the EU constitutes a catalogue of mistakes committed by the EU:
The application of the Greek Cypriots to join the EU was not submitted in conformity with the provisions of the Constitution of the Republic of Cyprus in the first place. The Cyprus Constitution provides in its art … that any decision involving the interests of both (Turkish and Greek) communities of the island had to be made with the consent of both chambers of the parliament. Despite this unambiguous provision, the EU chose to disregard it and accepted the application.
A linkage was established by the UN Secretary General Kofi Anan between the solution of the Cyprus problem and the accession of Cyprus to the EU. Anan thought that such a linkage could contribute to the solution of the Cyprus problem. The EU thought as well that the prospect of EU membership could lure both Turkish and Greek Cypriots to show flexibility in case such a linkage is established. This is why the EU worked hard to promote the Anan Plan both in the South and North parts of the island and encouraged the Cypriots to vote in favour of the Plan during the simultaneous referenda to be held on 24 April 2004 in both parts of the island. So far the initiative was good intentioned and promising. This initiative suffered the first setback when the Greek Cypriots voted down the Anan Plan. It could still be salvaged if the EU were to suspend the admission process of the Greek Cypriot accession until a solution was found to the Cyprus problem. EU opted not to capitalize on this golden opportunity claiming that
The period that we are crossing at present provides the parties with some opportunities which may contribute to the solution of the Cyprus problem.
One of the reasons for it is the forthcoming EU summit at the end of 2009, because it was agreed during the 2006 summit that Turkey’s progress would be reassessed in light of its fulfilment of the commitments stemming from the provisions of the Ankara Protocol.
The Cyprus question has been on the UN agenda for the last 45 years. So many important changes have taken place in the international arena in this long period of almost half a century. However the Cyprus problem remained unresolved. This may be an indication for the complexity of the issue. Neither the end of the Cold War, nor the involvement of the EU proved sufficient to solve the issue. It could even be argued that, on the contrary, they made the issue more complicated.
Each stage of the long history of the island contributed to the shaping of the Cyprus problem. I will not go as far back as the Crusades or the conquest of the island by the Ottomans. However the occupation of the island in 1878 by the UK and its annexation to the UK after the breakout of the First World War, have direct implications on the present status of the island.
The restrictions imposed on the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus at the time of its establishment in 1960 were the result of this earlier evolution of the history of the island.
The military coup staged by the colonels’ regime of the mainland Greece is the crucial turning point that brought the Cyprus question to the point where it stands at present.
Now, the present state of affairs is further complicated, as a result of the introduction of the EU dimension, i.e. the accession of the Greek Cypriot Administration to the EU. This last development transformed the Cyprus issue into an EU issue as well.
For the EU side, this was a political decision. Under the pressure of the enlargement towards the Eastern Europe, the Greek Cypriot side was admitted as a new member, ignoring the constotutional provisions which provide that decisions pertaining to both communities in the island could be taken only with the consent of both communities. Greek Cypriots applied to the EU without obtaining such a consent.
The admission of the Greek Cypriots was not in compliance of an EU rule not to admit a new member before that country solves its problems with third countries. This rule was aimed at avoiding that new member countries bring their problem to the EU and make the EU party to new problems.
To explain why the Greek Cypriots were admitted despite such inconvenience, the EU claims that Greece pointed out that it will veto the admission of the remaining 9 countries of the fifth enlargement. This is not convincing because the EU could leave Greece to veto the admission of the countries in question and face the consequences. I wonder how Greece would explain to these nine countries why it obstructs their admission to the EU for a reason that they have nothing to do with.
It will be more convincing to assume that the EU was looking for an excuse to admit the Greek Cypriots despite Turkey’s opposition, and the Greek threat to veto provided the EU with an excuse that it grabbed immediately.
We may not be doing justice to the EU if we do not admit that there was also a small bit of good will in the attitude of the EU, because it was expected that the admission of the Greek Cypriots to the EU within the framework the Anan Plan would also contribute to the solution of the Cyprus problem. In fact, the Anan Plan was providing the admission to the EU of a re-united Cyprus composed of Turkish Cypriot Constituent State and the Greek Cypriot Constituent State. The Greek Cypriots, after having secured that, thanks to the promised Greek veto, they would be admittd to the EU with or without the Anan Plan, they chose to reject the Anan Plan that was supported bu the EU. Mr. Verheugen who was the EU Commissioner in charge of enlargement is on the record to say that he was “cheated” by the Greek Cypriots.
qualif The EU claims Regardless of the EU’s well known principle of not to bring territorial and other conflicts into the Union and of urging the candidates to resolve their disputes before accession, the Greek Cypriot side became a member, without fulfilling this requirement.
This decision was adopted despite Turkey’s repeated objections. The objections of Turkey were not simply on political grounds. They were stemming from legal principles and the realities of the situation in Cyprus. The EU accession negotiations with Turkey and its relations with the EU on the one hand and its relations with the Turkish and the Greek Cypriot sides as a guarantor state on the other, constitute a complex situation not only for Turkey but for the EU as well.
Palestinian problem and the Cyprus problem are two problems that stay on the agenda of the UN for several decades. There is a major difference between these two problems in the sense that violence has stopped in Cyprus after Turkey’s intervention in 1974 while the bloodshed still continues in Palestine. The Cyprus issue is neither just a question of territory, nor simply a minority issue. It also involves many aspects, such as the security concerns of a number of countries.
Some optimists foresaw or rather hoped for positive effects of EU involvement on the resolution of the conflict. However, these expectations were never fulfilled. Moreover, the Cyprus issue and its ramifications have been undermining the EU decision making process. More significantly, this has come to form an obstacle hindering Turkey’s accession process.
The Greek Cypriot side has been using every opportunity provided by the EU’s principle of unanimity to hold back Turkey’s accession negotiations. It is evident that even the specific issues such as the delineation of the continental shelf are unduly linked to the accession negotiations and the negotiations on the chapters such as energy or environment are blocked by the Greek Cypriot side. Unfortunately, the other members of the EU do not seem to be uncomfortable of being taken hostage by the Greek Cypriots.
Turkey is part of the Cyprus question because it is a guarantor power. Any settlement failing to fulfil the expectations of the Turkish Cypriots will not be acceptable to Turkey either, because it will not be viable in the context of the realities of the island.
Contrary to some arguments, which presumes that the strategic importance of Cyprus has diminished, the Island still maintains its strategic value. In view of the growing significance of the energy issues and the proximity of Cyprus to regions such as the Middle East and the Caucasus which are vital for the energy security, its geo-strategic importance will increase rather than decline in the course of time.
The developments of the last few years have clearly shown that the involvement of the EU and the linkage of the Cyprus question with Turkey’s EU accession process have been counterproductive. The general feeling of the Turkish public opinion can be summarized as follows:
“The decisions regarding Turkey’s membership is a political decision. If the political will to accept Turkey prevails, the EU has means to force the Greek Cypriots to stop blocking Turkey’s accession process. On the other hand, if this will does not exist, no matter how flexible Turkey may be, the developments regarding Cyprus will not change the outcome of the negotiations.”
The involvement of the EU has been a cause of frustration not only for Turkey, but for the Turkish Cypriot side as well. Despite the constructive attitude of the Turkish Cypriot side, the commitments of the EU concerning direct trade and financial assistance were not fulfilled. This left the Turkish side with the feeling that they are punished for being positive. The EU proved to be an unsuccessful actor because it was unable to overcome the veto of a small member and failed to display sufficient resolve to contribute to the settlement of the dispute. This is an indication either of the lack of EU’s political will to solve the Cyprus problem or the ineffectiveness of its decision making process.
In light of these facts, the membership of the Greek Cypriot Administration proved to be a miscalculated step of the EU, because it only served to further complicate the conflict. It has finally been admitted and even voiced loudly by certain EU leaders that the Greek Cypriots’ membership has rendered the problem even less prone to a solution.
Furthermore, it is really difficult to understand the logic behind the exclusion of the Turkish Cypriots from the EU, while the Greek Cypriot administration is accepted as an EU member representing the whole Island.
Despite this picture which gives you scant reason to be positive, I still want to be optimistic and talk about better scenarios.
True, the EU involvement has been a cause of frustration so far. Nevertheless, the EU still has a chance to be a part of the solution, rather than remaining as a part of the problem: The EU accession process of Turkey may contribute to the resolution of the conflict.
In our region, we see certain instances of peaceful resolution of similar disputes. Turkey is already involved in a number of initiatives to this effect in its region. If the third parties make the proper contribution at the right time without discriminating the parties of the conflict, they may really be helpful. It is in this context that the EU can play a significant role.
The involvement of the EU has failed to deliver the expected outcome so far for several reasons.
Firstly, the intransigence of the Greek Cypriot Administration, as the member blocking the EU, is paralyzing the decision making process of the EU.
Secondly, the Greek Cypriot administration as an EU member also refrains from displaying sufficient level of flexibility and puts undue pressure on the Turkish side.
The last but not the least, the failure of the EU to take into account the existing facts on the ground and the progress of the negotiations which have been carried out so far within the UN framework also amounts to a short-sighted approach.
The EU failed to honour its commitment concerning direct trade and financial aid. The initiatives of Turkey have not received a favourable response from the EU side either. Needless to say, this situation has adverse affects on Turkey’s EU accession process.
Recent experience has also revealed that linkage between Turkey’s EU accession process and the Cyprus negotiations and putting pressure on Turkey has not only been unhelpful, but counterproductive from the viewpoint of the Turkish public opinion both in mainland and in the Island.
If the EU is to contribute to the solution, it should take into account the long-established UN parameters and to ensure the legal security and certainty of the new state of affairs and the settlement must be integrated into primary law of the EU.
It would be mislelading to conceive the issue as a question of numbers or a simple minority issue. It is not so. The Turkish side has to be one of the co-founders of the state to be established in Cyprus, as envisaged in the UN documents. It would be unrealistic to expect the Turkish side to accept anything less. I do not think it would be too difficult to accommodate the expectations of the Turkish side within the EU acquis. Guarantees stipulated by the primary law of the EU can significantly contribute to the settlement of the dispute. I believe the guarantees to be offered by the EU may help the other parties to afford more flexibility on other issues.
Before concluding my remarks, I would like to reiterate the importance of the role of the EU in the process of negotiations. Any progress regarding the Cyprus issue will be beneficial not only for the parties, but for Turkey’s accession process as well. Moreover, a lasting solution acceptable to all parties will surely contribute to the stability in Eastern Mediterranean, which itself has been gaining prominence in light of the recent developments.