Cyprus: Time for a deal?

28 January 2005

Hakan Öncel said the decision to go ahead with accession talks with Turkey at the December EU Council Summit had opened a new window of opportunity for the resolution of Cyprus problem.

Mehmet Ali Talat said he wanted to look ahead for opportunities to resolve the Cyprus problem, rather than repeat the past. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s invitation to Greek Cypriots to rethink their proposals for a solution was a step in the right direction. The isolation of Turkish Cyprus was no longer logical. Turkish Cypriots now wanted to re-enter government and form a united Republic of Cyprus. The two sides could not continue to avoid reconciliation, Mr. Talat stressed. “We want to join the Greek Cypriot Community, so our isolation should be lifted.”

The international community should devise a new solution to the conflict, now that the parameters had changed. He accused Greek Cypriots of never having agreed to a power-sharing arrangement, as they saw the Turkish side as a minority that should only be awarded minority rights. One community should not be allowed to isolate another, he argued in reference to the Greek Cypriot community’s rejection of the UN peace plan last year.

While he was not blaming the Greek Cypriot people for the collapse of the peace talks, the government was guilty of deception. He criticised Greek Cypriot Leader Tassos Papadopoulos, who had given a tearful speech immediately before the referendum, urging voters to say a resounding “no.” Misinformation had been circulating in the Greek Cypriot press about the negative consequences of the deal, such as the false claim that wages would be lowered. He wanted to make the Greek Cypriots aware of these factual errors.

Mr. Talat argued that the prevailing ‘doctrine of necessity’ in the Greek Cypriot administration meant there was no cooperation or contact with Turkish Cypriots. This stood in stark contrast to the basic EU principles of cooperation, compromise, friendly relations and an attempt to find peaceful solutions. He said the Turkish Cypriots did not want any more than they deserved: to unify the island and join the Republic of Cyprus, to share power, have equal rights and join the EU with the Greek Cypriot side. The Turkish Cypriots still had a vision for a solution and did not want to be a stumbling block in Turkey’s bid for EU membership. He urged the international community to encourage the Greek Cypriot side to work toward a solution.

The institutional perspective

Jean-Christophe Filori said he welcomed Mr. Talat’s intention not to revisit the past but look ahead to the future. The EU was about reconciliation and overcoming the bitterness of the past. It was painful to see that there was still barbed wire, minefields and a buffer zone on Cyprus on the 60th anniversary of Auschwitz.

On 26 April 2004, after the failure of the referendum, the European Commission had been asked to produce concrete measures to end the isolation of the Turkish Community. It did so in July 2004, by proposing €259 million to be devoted to infrastructure, training, agriculture and education in Northern Cyprus. It had also made a proposal to allow direct trade between the two communities to boost the North’s economy. However, there was still stalemate in Council over these issues, and this created an understandable bitterness among Turkish Cypriots who had been promised help. Mr. Filori said he hoped the blockage could be resolved soon.

Despite Commission proposals to ease the traffic of goods across the Green Line it had remained extremely limited. The value of this trade across in 2004 was €475 000, which was ‘peanuts.’ The Commission plan to widen the scope of goods had not been difficult but had also been blocked by the Council. Mr. Filori appealed to Member States to find an agreement to improve people’s lives and restore confidence.

Fraser Cameron said that most blame lay with the Greek Cypriot government who had made no effort to sell the Annan peace plan to the people. Although the plan was not perfect, to denounce it as Mr. Papadopoulos had done was irresponsible. Commissioner Verheugen had been right when he said he felt deceived. It had also been irresponsible for the EU to react in such a soft manner. It was highly regrettable that when the EU was trying to confront problems in the Middle East and the Balkans it still could not resolve the problems in Cyprus - a new Member State.

The Greek Cypriots and many of the EU Member States were “shamefully playing for bigger issues,” said Mr. Cameron in reference to Turkey’s bid to join the EU. Some Member States had an interest in limited action to move talks forward because it helped them with short-term domestic problems on Turkey.

Progress before the summer was unlikely, as the Luxembourg EU Presidency had not made it a priority and seemed glad to be handing the issue over to the British EU Presidency. Although, British officials claimed to have more knowledge of the situation but it was a curiosity that the UK still maintained sovereign bases in another EU Member State.