European Affairs

The first decision came at a summit meeting on December 17, 2004, as EU leaders debated whether Turkey should be offered a date for the start of EU accession negotiations. Cyprus, after wide-ranging consultations, joined its EU partners in offering Turkey a specific date.

Soon thereafter, a series of difficult discussions about Turkey began, intensifying in the summer and early fall of 2005 as the October 3 date for the opening of entry negotiations with Ankara drew nearer. I was asked time and again if my country regretted the December 2004 decision and whether Cyprus would stay the course. I was frequently asked, “Why not block Turkey?” There were many reasons why Cyprus could have chosen to exercise its right to veto the start of negotiations with Turkey. But, there were also many counter-arguments in favor of extending the hand of friendship and supporting Turkey’s long-standing bid for EU membership.

The main reasons why Cyprus might easily have opposed Turkish membership are that Turkey’s armed forces continue to occupy more than one-third of the island; that Ankara regularly blocks Cypriot membership in numerous international organizations; that Turkey’s attitude toward Cyprus hampers Transatlantic cooperation, including the fight against terrorism; and that Turkey consistently refuses to allow Cypriot ships to berth in its ports or Cypriot aircraft to land in or over-fly its territory.

Many thought that, following the December decision to set a date for the opening of negotiations, relations between Turkey and Cyprus would grow warmer. Unfortunately, however, they remained on a rocky course. There were severe problems over Turkey’s refusal to recognize the Cypriot government and a continuing lack of progress in efforts to resolve the three-decade-long dispute over the island’s division.

As a result, some strongly suggested that Cyprus should abandon its decision to support Turkey’s bid for accession. Cyprus, however, chose to stay the course that best supported a peaceful solution to the anachronistic division of Cyprus and, on October 3, the EU ratified its decision to begin accession talks with Turkey. The 25 member states – including Cyprus – agreed on a “negotiating framework” for Turkish membership. There are numerous reasons why Cyprus made this choice.

First, the prospect of EU membership is important to Turkey’s development and could foster a more secure and economically robust Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East. The standards that Turkey must meet to gain membership will require the modernization of Turkey. Human rights reforms and vast improvements in Turkey’s legal, economic, social, cultural and political processes will be required. Turkey will have to guarantee free speech, respect minority groups, address the plight of its many poor and put an end to torture and illegal child labor. EU membership will require nothing less than a fundamental transformation of Turkey, and such a result can only bode well for full rights and democracy for all Turkish citizens.

Second, Cyprus shares the views of many of its European partners, as well as those of the United States and Canada, regarding the strategic benefits of Turkey’s EU membership. Turkish entry would vastly expand the borders of the European Union, thus greatly extending the zone of peace and stability that it represents – in much the same way that EU membership has helped transform the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. It would also provide a vivid demonstration throughout the Islamic world that a majority Muslim country can be democratic and can thrive economically in the Western world while still maintaining its religious identity.

Third, Cyprus believes that the Turkish EU accession process continues to offer the most promising and perhaps the only realistic path to resolving the long-standing division of our country. In the visionary words of Jean Monnet, “when you change the context, you change the problem.” The combination of Cyprus’s EU membership and Turkey’s aspiration to join does exactly that.

The history of the European Union teaches us that it solves problems by embracing them. The example of Turkey could once again prove that point. The accession process that Turkey is now undertaking requires the resolution of outstanding issues, including Turkish recognition of the Republic of Cyprus and the normalization of bilateral relations between the two countries. The European Union has stated, with regard to Turkey, that “recognition of all member states is a necessary component of the accession process,” and called for “normalization of relations between Turkey and all EU member states, as soon as possible.”

Recognition of the Republic of Cyprus is an important component of Turkey’s EU accession process since the negotiating framework adopted on October 3 provides that “the substance of negotiations will be contacted in an Intergovernmental Conference with the participation of all member states on the one hand and the candidate state on the other.” So, it is inconceivable that Turkey will be able to proceed on the course toward accession without first recognizing all EU member states.

It is incompatible with the values of the European Union for an acceding country to maintain an occupying force on territory of another member state. Simply put, Turkey will have to remove its troops and help solve the Cyprus issue on the basis of the rule of law in order to achieve EU membership.

The positive decisions by Cyprus in December 2004 and October 2005 are clear-cut demonstrations of what the Cypriot government has long contended: All Cypriots, whether of Greek, Turkish, Armenian, Maronite or Latin ancestry, strive for a genuine reunification of the island on just and reasonable terms. It is true that, in 2004, Cypriot Greeks voted against a UN-arbitrated settlement plan, while Cypriot Turks and Turkish settlers accepted it. The vote by the Cypriot Greeks, however, was not against reunification, but against an unbalanced plan that they did not believe addressed their basic concerns. Close to eight million incident-free visits have taken place since April 2003 across the “Green Line” that divides our country – a line that separates the government-controlled area of Cyprus from the 36 percent of the island’s territory that is under occupation, including 57 percent of the coastline. The visits of Cypriot Greeks have thus far brought over $100 million worth of economic benefits to the Cypriot Turkish community.

The everyday peaceful and amicable interactions of the Cypriot people, and some extraordinary human stories that have emerged from them are destroying myths, stereotypes and ideological mindsets and providing concrete evidence that no hostility exits among ordinary citizens of the two communities.

More than 10,000 Cypriot Turkish workers cross the line every morning to work in the government-controlled area. According to Cypriot Turkish sources, the per capita income of the Cypriot Turkish community reached $8,095 in 2004, a 36 percent increase since April 2003. During the same period, the Cypriot Turkish economy grew by 15.4 percent. The government of Cyprus has spent more than $21 million on medical care for Cypriot Turks in the past two years, and paid more than $43 million in social insurance pensions. As we have for more than 30 years, we continue to provide free electricity to Cypriot Turks, at a total cost now exceeding $340 million. Moreover, tens of thousands of Republic of Cyprus passports and other documents have been issued to our Cypriot Turkish compatriots. With EU accession, all of Cyprus’s citizens became EU citizens.

The government of Cyprus has been taking concrete steps to integrate the two major communities on the island as the above examples aptly demonstrate. We are not simply standing back and waiting for the EU process to unfold. We are actively reaching out, working to end the economic deprivation of a large segment of our population and to restart the negotiation process in a way that promotes reunification of the island. These are investments in our own joint future in the European Union. We look forward to the day when the people of Cyprus are reunited and live in a bizonal, bi-communal federal state, in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions and the principles on which the European Union is founded. Our contributions to the EU deliberations will take us closer to that day.

Cyprus had to disregard many contentious issues in deciding twice to support Turkey’s EU bid. We adopted a longer view, that of an EU member state that very much wishes to find a solution to the problem that has divided our country for more than three decades and wants to normalize relations with a major neighboring power like Turkey.

In that perspective, we chose to reach out to Turkey in constructive ways. It is now Turkey’s turn to prove that it takes its commitments seriously by fully complying with all EU requirements. We believe that such steps will lead both to a peaceful reunification of Cyprus and to the long-term improvement of the lives of the citizens of Turkey and Cyprus. That will be good for Cyprus, good for Turkey, good for the European Union and good for the Transatlantic relationship.

Euripides L. Evriviades is the Ambassador of Cyprus to the United States. He previously served as the Ambassador of Cyprus to the Netherlands and before that was Ambassador to Israel. A career diplomat, he held senior positions at Cypriot embassies in Tripoli, Moscow, Bonn and the United Nations.


This article was published in European Affairs: Volume number 6, Issue number 4 in the Fall of 2005.