European Affairs

EU Entry Could Help to Solve the Cyprus Problem     Print Email
George Vassiliou

As the European Union negotiates with up to 12 potential new members, most attention has focused on the candidate countries in Central and Eastern Europe and their efforts to become Western-style free market democracies.

One of the earliest new members, however, is likely to be Cyprus, which is moving rapidly through the EU accession process and hopes to complete its entry negotiations by the middle of next year. So far, 23 out of the 29 Chapters of the acquis communautaire (the corpus of all the EU's laws, regulations and practices) have already been provisionally closed, thus putting Cyprus at the lead of the candidate countries for accession.

That may once again raise the issue of whether a divided Cyprus can join the EU, or whether further efforts should be made to settle the "Cyprus problem" - the island's continuing division forcibly imposed by Turkey between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities - before it can become a member.

Some people are worried that one or more EU member states might refuse to ratify the agreement, negotiated by the island's government, for fear of the reaction of Turkey, and that there would be a major crisis and the whole enlargement process could be endangered.

Personally, I doubt such a prospect. At their Helsinki summit meeting in December 1999, the EU's 15 leaders unanimously agreed that the solution of the Cyprus problem is not a precondition for the island's accession.

The summit's official conclusions underlined that a political settlement of the Cyprus issue would facilitate the island's EU entry. But they continued: "If no settlement has been reached by the completion of accession negotiations, the Council's decision on accession will be made without the above being a precondition."

The Helsinki Conclusions make it obvious that we should spare no effort to achieve the reunification of the island. It is not enough, however, for the Greek Cypriots to want a solution. The co-operation of Mr. Rauf Denktash, the Turkish Cypriot leader, and of the Turkish government is indispensable.

Unfortunately, for the time being, that cooperation is not forthcoming, even though the Helsinki decision, in essence, constituted a balanced deal. The EU opened the way to Turkey for eventual accession, while Ankara committed itself to meeting the political and economic criteria for membership. Turkey also undertook certain obligations in relation to Cyprus, the Aegean and human rights.

Despite the lack of Turkish cooperation, we are not giving up hope. As long, however, as Turkey insists on a confederation of two independent states on the island, there can be no reunification.

A new round of talks is expected to start under the auspices of the United Nations. For the moment, however, the omens are not very promising. Although President Glafcos Clerides has accepted an invitation from the UN Secretary General to resume the talks, Mr. Denktash and the Turkish government have unfortunately rejected it.

We will not, however, take no for an answer. We will continue our efforts to secure the resumption of the talks. Once they do, we will attend with all the goodwill in the world, and be ready to reach an agreement within the framework of the UN and EU resolutions.

It is our strong desire to succeed in the talks and see a reunified Cyprus join the EU. For the time being, however, the fact is that the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, declared in the Turkish-occupied area of Cyprus, has not been recognized by any country other than Turkey and has been condemned by both the UN and the EU. Turkey seems to ignore these facts.

When the "TRNC" was established in November 1993, the ten member states of the then European Community stated that they "are deeply concerned by the declaration purporting to establish a 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' as an independent State. They reject this declaration, which is in disregard of successive resolutions of the United Nations."

The ten countries reiterated their unconditional support for the independence, sovereignty, territorial integrity and unity of the Republic of Cyprus. They called on all interested parties "not to recognize this act, which creates a very serious situation in the area."

Last May, the European Court of Human Rights repeated that the Government of the Republic of Cyprus is the sole legitimate government of Cyprus, that the "TRNC" is not a state under international law, and that it survives by virtue of Turkish military and other support.

Günter Verheugen, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, recently issued a clear warning to Mr. Denktash that time is running out. "Time is going by and he must not think that he is going to get separate negotiations, that's not a possibility," Mr. Verheugen said.

"And the idea that the Union could take on board the two Cypruses is completely mistaken, that is not going to happen," Mr. Verheugen continued. "Nor should he think that northern Cyprus could be taken in as part of Turkey. These are three complete illusions which are not in anyway related to reality."

As long, therefore, as Turkey insists on its demand for recognition of a separate state and the practical partition of the island, there will be no solution and I do not expect any of the 15 EU member countries to veto Cyprus's accession.

Another issue is the so-called embargo allegedly imposed by the "rich" Greek Cypriots on the "poor" Turkish Cypriots. First of all let me state that if we, in the government controlled areas of Cyprus, have a reasonable standard of living today this is entirely due to the hard work of our population. They were not prepared to accept defeat and worked really hard in order to achieve a small economic miracle.

It should not be forgotten that at the time of the Turkish military invasion in 1974, 70 percent of the productive capacity of the island was in the area now occupied by the Turkish army. Today, the island's gross domestic product, according to some measures, exceeds that of Spain, Greece and Portugal, as well as that of all the other candidate countries.

If there is an embargo, it is self-imposed because Mr. Denktash is simply not prepared to accept EU rules and regulations. You cannot have free movement of goods without a common customs area, an idea that Mr. Denktash has rejected.

And you cannot have free movement of locally grown vegetables or animal products without very strict phytosanitary and veterinary controls under EU guidance and supervision. This again Mr. Denktash refuses point-blank. This is what stops the free movement of goods, not the policies of either the Cypriot government or the EU.

We are, therefore, hoping that, united or divided, Cyprus will be part of the first wave of enlargement.

You may justifiably ask why the EU would want to include Cyprus. Of course, we have no illusions. We know that Cyprus is a small island, only 10,000 kilometers square and with a total population of 750,000 people. It happens, however, to occupy an extremely important geo-strategic position at the crossroads between Europe and the Middle East and Central Asia.

Cyprus will become the external border of the EU in the Eastern Mediterranean and will be able to combat, even more effectively, illegal immigration, drug trafficking and money laundering. The inclusion of Cyprus will confirm the EU as both a Mediterranean and a Middle Eastern power. And this will have very important repercussions in promoting stability and helping to solve the various con§icts in our neighborhood.

Two years ago Benjamin Netanyahu, then Prime Minister of Israel, told me his government unequivocally supported Cyprus's EU entry bid, because once Cyprus became a member Europe would be only 100 miles away from Israel. The potential presence of Europe in one of the most crucial areas of the world should in itself be sufficient to justify the EU's enlargement.

With Cyprus and Malta members of the EU, it will be that much easier to promote stability throughout the Mediterranean, to implement the EU's Mediterranean policies and to help bring lasting peace to the Arab-Israeli con§ict and to the Middle East as a whole.

There are, of course, economic implications as well. Cyprus has a vibrant five percent annual economic growth and practically no in§ation. It should be able to join the EU's Economic and Monetary Union immediately after accession.

Furthermore, when Cyprus joins, the EU will have the world's largest maritime §eet because of the size of Cyprus's commercial §eet. This will greatly increase the EU's in§uence in the International Maritime Organization.

For Cyprus, by far the most important consideration is that EU accession will bring a new feeling of security and stability after so many years of tension and anxiety about the future. All our progress over the last 30 years has been achieved with almost no foreign direct investment.

The lack of a solution to the Cyprus problem and latent insecurity undoubtedly deterred foreign investors. Once in the EU, however, we believe that Cyprus has every chance to become a service center for the whole region, to develop a new high tech sector and to become a health and education center for the whole of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Accession will open new horizons for young people and accelerate the island's future development. It will make reunification easier because the door will be open for the Turkish Cypriots to join the EU the moment they decide to do so. Enlargement of the EU to Cyprus will greatly benefit Greek and Turkish Cypriots.

There still remains a major question: what will happen after accession?

There are two possibilities. Some people believe that accession will lead to a permanent partition of the island and a practical annexation of the occupied area by Turkey. Personally, I cannot see how the situation after accession can be worse than the one that prevails today.

When the invasion took place 27 years ago, nobody believed that the island's division would persist for so long. But it did, and there is absolutely no hope that Turkey will permit a federal solution if things remain as they are. So in the worst case the situation will remain as it is today.

The second scenario is that accession will act as catalyst for a solution shortly afterward. After Cyprus joins, the benefits and the pressures of Cyprus's being part of the EU will play greatly into the hands of those seeking a solution. There will be tremendous pressure on the Turkish Cypriots to join and take advantage of the economic and other benefits of federation within the EU.

In Turkey, also, there will be a growing number of people who will see no rationale for the waste of several hundred million dollars a year in insisting on a solution that is unattainable.

Already last year, 2,000 Turkish Cypriots asked for Cypriot passports in order to be able to take advantage of future EU accession. Since the invasion, more than 55,000 Turkish Cypriots have emigrated in search of a better life in Britain, Australia or elsewhere. If the prospect of a solution after accession is delayed, then thousands of Turkish Cypriots will vote with their feet.

My expectation, therefore, is that after accession, Turkey will abandon the illusion of a confederation and accept the UN position of a federation, which, it should be stressed, was initially a Turkish demand that the Greek Cypriot side accepted.

Greece can be expected to continue the efforts it began two years ago to promote good neighborly relations with Turkey. Athens is also supporting Turkey's move towards Europe.

All in all, Turkey's desire to improve its relations with the EU, pressure from the Turkish Cypriots and from its own population, Greece's friendly foreign policy, and the significant economic benefits that will be waiting around the corner, will all contribute toward a change of Turkish policy towards Cyprus.

If the Turkish Cypriots were also included in the EU, Turkish would become an official EU language and the Turkish Cypriots would enjoy enhanced security and a much higher standard of living. In addition, the prospect of close cooperation among Greece, Turkey and Cyprus would become a reality and further contribute toward peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The inclusion of Cyprus in EU enlargement, therefore, will have very positive implications on the island and should sooner or later lead to its reunification, to the benefit of all Cypriots and of the region.

 

This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number II, Issue number IV in the Fall of 2001.

 
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