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Cyprus settlement up to Greek side January 6, 2010

Posted by Yilan in Cyprus, Yunanistan.
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Semih Idiz We are arriving at a critical juncture in the Cyprus problem. Not, however, due to any outside pressure by the European Union or anyone else. It is clear that the talks between presidents Mehmet Ali Talat and Dimitris Christofias cannot go on forever.In other words, time is running out. There was talk at the beginning of the year about “punitive measures” against Turkey if Ankara did not comply with the EU’s demands over Cyprus by December. But it is clear now that this will not be happening, despite the diplomatic efforts of the Greek Cypriot side. Instead, it seems the chapter on the environment, which the Greek Cypriots were trying to block, will be opened, thus taking Turkey’s accession talks one step ahead, albeit a small step.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou announced after all this became apparent that his country would unilaterally veto talks on six other chapters – labor mobility, fundamental rights, the justice system, education, foreign policy and energy – in the future if Turkey does not comply with EU demands. It is a fact that Greek Cypriot power in the EU against Turkey is relative to certain EU members’ desire to block Ankara’s accession path. Because there is no EU consensus on Turkey, the Greek Cypriots find a playing field for themselves in Brussels, even if this does not amount to the power they would like to have against Ankara. But all that will happen in the coming days is that Turkey will get “a message of disapproval” from the EU Council for not having complied with the requirement to open its ports to Greek Cypriot ships. Turkey will not, however, change its position until the EU side honors its promises to lift the economic isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, or until a settlement is reached in the Cyprus talks. And life will go on.

In other words, Turkey’s “punishment” will be nothing more than a continuation of the existing “punishment,” which involves the suspension of talks in eight chapters due to the fact that Ankara refuses to open its ports to Greek Cypriot ships. Then there is the “additional punishment” of the five chapters unilaterally frozen by France, a matter that has nothing to do with Cyprus. If the Greek Cypriots unilaterally freeze six other chapters, then the whole Turkey-EU business will become a farce. The simple fact is that the prospect of EU membership does not provide a big enough carrot anymore for Turks, and the threat to stop this process in its tracks does not provide a big enough stick to make Turkey budge. The latest “Eurobarometer poll” shows further decline in the confidence Turks have in the EU, which makes the EU’s carrots and sticks even more flaccid. For most Turks, admitting Greek Cyprus into the EU after it rejected the U.N.-sponsored and EU-supported settlement plan in 2004 was the most significant indicator of dishonesty toward the Turkish side. Turks saw then that no matter how compliant they may be on Cyprus, they will always be relegated to the background in favor of Greek Cyprus.

When the EU Commission attempted to redress this injustice through a direct trade package for northern Cyprus, it was promptly blocked by the Greek Cypriots (with moral support from anti-Turkish elements in the EU). This development only increased the distrust in the European Union. So the Greek Cypriot side faces a serious dilemma today. Its initial calculation was that EU membership was considered by Turks to be such a reward that the Turkish side would be forced to come to a certain position on Cyprus because of this. But this strategy failed, and Greek Cypriot threats, such as the one mentioned above by Kyprianou, ring hollow today.

The fact is that Turkey has achieved critical mass in terms of its economy and has a growing political and strategic importance. It is therefore unlikely that the Greek Cypriot administration will be able to block the critical chapters named by Kyprianou. Put another way, the foreign minister’s wishes will only be fulfilled to the extent that he gets support from anti-Turkish elements in the EU. But areas such as the justice system, foreign policy and energy are crucial for the EU too, for a host of objective reasons that far transcend Greek Cypriot interests. If, however, Greek Cypriots succeed in blocking these chapters, Turkey’s distrust of the EU will peak.

This in turn will make any pressure by the EU on Ankara over Cyprus even less effective than it is today. News reports and certain statements from key EU officials indicate that politicians and strategists in Europe are wary of pushing Turkey too far, knowing full well that an alienated Turkey is not in Europe’s interests. It must also be noted that it is strange that the Greek Cypriot side should still be trying to pull the carpet out from under the Turkish side through its EU membership while continuing talks with the Turkish Cypriots at the same time. One would not expect a country negotiating in good faith to do this. But since it is doing this, it is clear that the Greek Cypriot side is looking for a last-minute political miracle of some sort that will put an end to the Cyprus talks. There seems to be a desire to turn the clock back to a situation in full compliance with Greek Cypriot demands. The past 35 years have shown, however, that this is a pipe dream. The simple fact is that if a settlement cannot be found soon, we will be heading for permanent division of the island. While they overwhelmingly rejected the United Nations’ blueprint for a settlement in 2004, Greek Cypriots have to be aware that the key aspects of any settlement for Cyprus will not be much different than the “Annan Plan” they rejected. If a permanent division on Cyprus occurs, it will be interesting to see to what extent the EU will come down on Turkey for the sake of the Greek Cypriots. Especially since the whole world now knows that the best chance for a settlement was scuttled by Greek Cyprus in 2004, increasing the prospects for division. Looking at the proverbial big picture, something tells us that the EU will disappoint Greek Cypriots if that day of division ever comes. If, however, the Greek Cypriot administration is serious about a settlement this time, then it will not find a more propitious moment to act accordingly. So, yes, the Cyprus settlement is up to Greek side.

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