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Media Watch 2004

01 February 2004
Source: Sunday Mail
Author: Dr George Vassiliou
Comment: The following article appeared in the Sunday Mail of Nicosia on 1 February 2004.
Europe: the catalyst that has transformed the Cyprus problem


THE CYPRUS problem is in danger of becoming the longest outstanding unresolved problem of the world. Germany has been reunited, the problem of Northern Ireland has been nearly solved, there is good news from India and Pakistan concerning Kashmir, but the Cyprus problem is still there.
The United Nations and the international community have for decades now tried hard to solve the Cyprus problem, without success. The reason was simple. After the Greek junta’s coup and the Turkish invasion and occupation, Turkey and Rauf Denktash felt they had the upper hand and were simply not interested in a solution.

The imbalance of power between Greece and Turkey and the perceived value that the United States placed on Turkey’s strategic significance made it obvious that the only hope for a solution of the Cyprus problem was a change in the equation: the addition of a new player. This new player was the European Union.
Undoubtedly the EU’s biggest achievement is that the European continent, the world’s major battlefield for centuries past, has at last found peace, stability and prosperity. Within the EU, the idea of a war between member states is impossible. Human rights for all citizens are fully guaranteed and respected, various nationalities small or large live in peace and co-operate actively for the common benefit. The rich nations help the poor to become rich. Equality of races and sexes has become a reality and a way of life.

If Cyprus had been a member of the Union at the birth of the Republic there would have been no strife between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The sufferings and death of so many innocent people would have been avoided. Neither enosis (union with Greece) nor taksim (partition) would have been a realistic slogan. The rights of the Turkish Cypriot community would have been protected.

But we all know this was not the case. Shortly after independence, intercommunal clashes began and the Turkish Cypriots withdrew from government into their enclaves.

When official relations with the European Community were established in 1972, with the Economic Co-operation Agreement, the Turkish Cypriots, although not participating in government, expressed their agreement, realising that the prospect of closer relations with the EU would be to their benefit as well.

The invasion intervened, pushing back the second phase of the agreement (customs union), which should have started in 1978, a full decade until 1988. In the meantime Europe had established that the lack of progress towards a solution was due to Turkish intransigence.

Similarly, Cyprus’ formal application to join the EU in July 1990 came after Denktash’s behaviour brought down nearly two years of UN efforts for a solution. Making the application, the Cyprus government underlined its desire to achieve a solution by the time of accession - if the Turkish side wanted reunification there was plenty of time to achieve it, from the day of the application until the beginning of accession talks. The European Union, when finally accepting Cyprus’ application in 1993, expressed the hope that the prospect of joining the Union would contribute towards a solution.

But Denktash and the Turkish ‘Deep State’ were not interested. Efforts to find a solution before 1998, when accession talks began, and subsequently, were in vain. It became clear that EU accession and solution of the Cyprus problem were parallel procedures, nevertheless tightly inter-related. In its Helsinki Summit Resolution in December 1999, the EU made the situation clear:

“The European Council underlines that a political settlement will facilitate the accession of Cyprus to the European Union. 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. In this the Council will take account of all relevant factors.”

The EU was not prepared to accept that the lack of a solution due to Turkish intransigence would be a reason for keeping Cyprus out. On the contrary they were sincerely hoping that accession would contribute greatly towards reuniting the island. This is why the UN efforts were intensified, leading to the submission of the Annan Plan in the autumn of 2002. Efforts to achieve an agreement on the basis of the plan continued until the last moment in Copenhagen.

Again, they failed because of Turkey’s and Denktash’s attitude. The EU had no choice but to accept as member the Republic of Cyprus as a whole, specifying that, “as long as there is no solution, the application of the acquis in the occupied areas is suspended. Once the island will be reunited, automatically the Turkish Cypriot federated state will be part of the EU.”

Cyprus’ EU accession has completely changed the equation. Until the last moment, the Turkish establishment tried to influence the EU’s decision, even issuing threatening statements that Cyprus could not be accepted to the Union. The Union and the Cyprus government faced these threats with self-restraint, knowing Turkey could not implement any of them. This policy has been vindicated, the dire threats forgotten.

The reaction in the occupied areas has been dramatic. Huge spontaneous demonstrations clearly conveyed the message: “Enough is enough: we want a solution now.”

We are now facing a new situation, changing the equation by the day. Turkey has realised that through accession they can address the many problems the country is facing. For years, much of Turkey’s establishment was under the illusion that they could join the EU without radically changing the basic characteristics of their political system - i.e. the army could continue playing the leading role in all the institutions of the Republic. They hoped they could continue to deny the recognition of a separate Kurdish identity, deny the respect of human rights and continue with the illegal occupation of northern Cyprus.

But Europe’s political systems are radically different from this vision. In the EU and all other democracies around the world, the army stays firmly in the barracks. Human rights are respected, equality of nations and communities is a reality; and, of course, the use of force to occupy another country is unimaginable.
Turkey’s leadership thought they could get away by underlining their special character as NATO’s spearhead in the region. The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the recent events in Iraq have proved such a role no longer exists. If Turkey wants to join the EU, it has to become a democratic nation respecting all the basic principles of the Union, like all other countries.

On Cyprus, Turkey has for a long time been trying to make capital of the fact that the solution of the problem is not one of the Copenhagen criteria. This is true. However, the EU has sent a very clear message to Turkey, that the solution of the Cyprus problem is the best proof Turkey can give that it has changed its behaviour and respects the human rights, integrity and sovereignty of all other nations.

It is the realisation of this simple truth following Cyprus’ accession that has made the government of Tayyip Erdogan change its attitude towards the solution of the Cyprus problem, preparing the ground towards accepting the Annan Plan as a basis for negotiations leading to a solution. Until recently, however, Denktash and Turkey were claiming the Annan Plan was dead, and insisting on the recognition of so-called realities - i.e. the existence of two independent states in Cyprus.

This propaganda became meaningless after the European Union accepted Cyprus as a whole into the Union. Come May, Turkey would find itself in a very awkward situation without a solution. Turkey is applying to join the Union of 25 members, but at the same time refuses to recognise one of those 25. This alone would be sufficient to kill Turkey’s application. Therefore, after May 2004 Turkey will have to recognise the Republic, re-open its Embassy and downgrade its representation in the so-called ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’. Furthermore, they realise it is not possible to persist with their application while occupying northern Cyprus i.e. part of the territory of the Union.

It has become obvious to most in Turkey that to get a date for the start of accession negotiations by the end of 2004, they have to solve the Cyprus problem. They have to accept the Annan Plan as a basis for negotiation and convince both the EU and the international community that they are serious in their desire to reach a solution. The first steps in this direction have already been taken in Ankara. However, we are still not there, and many in the establishment are desperate to maintain the status quo and secure a date for accession negotiations without a solution.

And what of the Turkish Cypriots? Many in the past believed Denktash’s arguments against accession. In a speech I made back in 1995 to Turkish Cypriots in northern Nicosia (the first ever by a Greek Cypriot) I answered these arguments, and I believe my replies remain valid today.
“What about the Turkish Cypriots? What options do they have?

“One option is to remain as they are today: isolated, without international recognition, unable to adopt an independent economic policy since the economy is virtually fully integrated with that of Turkey, suffering from inflation, lack of foreign investment… etc. The status quo… is not an option.

“So what are the remaining options?… The prospect of gaining legitimacy through international recognition does not arise. Not so much because of the role that Greek Cypriots or Greece can play, but mainly because it is impossible for the international community to agree to legalise the division of a sovereign state, a member of the United Nations, by force…

“If this is not a real option, what is left? The prospect of full integration into Turkey's economy. But in practical terms, this is already happening today… It is not very different from the status quo…"