NEWS

Cyprus seen in first wave of EU expansion

LONDON – Cyprus stands a good chance of joining European Union expansion in 2004 because Turkey will eventually compromise over the ethnically divided island, according to a Reuters survey of analysts. Cyprus is a frontrunner in meeting the EU’s economic conditions for membership but its application for admission has been bedeviled by tensions over the island between EU member Greece and EU applicant Turkey. In the survey carried out this week, 25 out of 38 analysts said Cyprus could be among 10 countries to join the EU by 2004. Cyprus is in the first line of countries that should enter the EU. Barriers are political but I think, or perhaps I am just hoping, they will sort them out, said Oliver Stonner-Venkatarama at Commerzbank in Frankfurt. Nine, seeing no end to the impasse, said Cyprus would not be able to join in 2004, and four were undecided. The eastern Mediterranean island has been divided since Turkey invaded the north in 1974 in response to a Greek-inspired coup. Hopes for a resolution were raised this week when leaders of the two communities on the divided island agreed to meet for the first time in over four years on December 4. The EU has assured the internationally recognized government of Greek Cypriots the dispute will not block their admission. But if Cyprus is allowed in, Turkey has threatened to annex the northern part of the island. And Greece has said it would veto any EU enlargement that did not include Cyprus. Turkey has also applied to join the EU. Analysts say economic and political problems make it highly unlikely Turkey will gain entry within the next few years, but Turkey’s aspirations do give the EU some potential leverage over Cyprus. Roger Monson at the CA-IB Investment bank in London said Turkey’s 1999 earthquake had aroused sympathy in Greece and eased tensions, raising the chances of EU entry for Cyprus. The biggest hurdle is Greek intransigence, Monson said, adding that Turkey had some legitimate grounds for concern about the rights of the ethnic Turk minority. Their (Greek-Cypriot) interpretation of self-determination is that the Greeks are in charge, Monson said. He expected renewed efforts to resolve the dispute, but it will be hard. Probably the only institution that could get the two sides round a negotiating table and agree on anything will be the EU Commission, analysts said. The Commission could offer a firm timetable for Turkey to enter the EU in return for cooperation over Cyprus. Given the important part Turkey plays in international politics, I think that is likely, said Stonner-Venkatarama. Over the past few weeks they have played the geostrategic card, but made no progress on structural reform. Turkey is important to the US government in this region. It is also an important member of NATO. Last week the Commission said it was on track to conclude negotiations with 10 candidate countries by the end of 2002, paving the way for their accession in January 2004. The other likely entrants are Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and Malta. Thirty-three out of the 38 who responded to the question said Turkey would not join the EU in the next six years because of economic problems, including rampant inflation and a big debt burden, plus concerns about human rights. Three analysts believed Turkish entry was possible by the end of 2007 and two were undecided. Bernd Weidensteiner at the DZ bank in Frankfurt said: Turkey is not a very likely contender for membership in the next decade. But the Europeans are too polite to tell them.