Cyprus entering the EU: United or divided?

26 April 2004

Mehmet Ali Talat opened his presentation by briefly reflecting on the history of the United Nations Peace Plan for Cyprus (the Annan Plan). Mr Talat reminded the audience that the plan was first initiated in 2002 and that it has therefore taken over two years to reach this point. He pointed out that he himself had only become involved in the negotiations in this last intensive phase which began in February 2004 as he was only elected “Prime Minister” in December 2003. The main priority of his government was to solve the Cyprus problem. He reminded participants that it was the Turkish Cypriot side and Turkey which were responsible for initiating this last phase and that the new political climate in Ankara, under Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, had demonstrated its commitment to a solution on the island. He also pointed out that the plan was fully supported by the European Union, UN Security Council and the international community. He believed that although the Annan Plan did not totally satisfy either side and gave neither side a victory, it was a balanced compromise both sides could at least live with.

24 April Referendum

Mr Talat believed that even though Rauf Denktas, Leader of the Turkish Cypriot Community, had called on the people to vote “no” to the plan, the majority would still support it. He pointed out that on the very same day mass demonstrations were taking place in the North in support of the plan and that he himself had crossed over the “green-line” which divides the two communities during the weekend in order to rally support for a “yes” vote and speak to the leaders of the key political parties. However, he expressed concern over the very likely “no” vote in the Greek Cypriot community, supported by President Tassos Papadopoulos, as this could lead to the continuing isolation of the north. Mr Talat believes that it would be unjust if the Turkish community were to remain isolated as a result of the Greek community rejecting the plan. “The Greek side has the right to say no, but it has no right to keep the Turkish Cypriots as hostages,” he said.

Mr Talat said that he shared some of the concerns of his Greek Cypriot counterparts and that he understood that facing the realities of a solution would not be easy - for either side - but that the time had come for both parties to move on from expressions of goodwill to facing the realities on the ground and putting an end to this problem.

He said was opposed to postponing the date of the referendum, as had been suggested by the largest Greek Cypriot Political party, AKEL, which insisted that extra time was needed to inform themselves and the public about the contents of the plan. Talat stressed that the timetable that all the parties agreed to in New York in February should be adhered to. Furthermore, he pointed out that since the plan was first launched, its contents had become very well known to all those involved. During the course of the last two years there have been numerous television debates, conferences and almost daily newspaper coverage of the report. If the vote was postponed it would mean that when Cyprus enters the EU on 1 May it would only be represented by the Greek Cypriots, which to him was unacceptable. According to Mr Talat the only way a postponement might be accepted would be if it were linked to a “suspension” of Cyprus’ entry to the EU.

An End to Isolation

The people of northern Cyprus were tired of living in isolation. The only way forward was to find a solution to this 30-year old problem. He said that the main reason they supported the Annan Plan was because they wanted to escape this protracted isolation by the world. A solution would also offer the opportunity to improve the economy of Northern Cyprus as well as the added benefits of different aspects of every day life.

He said that the European Union, which had totally supported the Annan Plan, should give support to Northern Cyprus if the Greek Cypriots voted “no” and he suggested that, among other things, the EU could develop trade links with the North. Greek Cypriots should be encouraged to act in a positive manner.

Regarding recognition of the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC),” which is currently only recognised by Turkey, Mr Talat said that he was not demanding recognition but asking for an end to isolation. On this issue the Chairman, pointed out that recognition of “TRNC” by EU Member States would not be possible, as the accession treaty would not allow it. The only formula that might be possible would similar to that found for Taiwan.