European bargaining over Cyprus continues

The illusions and hopes of many in Athens, but especially in Nicosia, concerning developments on the Cyprus issue after tough talk from Paris to Turkey have been dramatically dashed. It started with the achievement of a French-British agreement on the content of the European response to Turkey’s decision to repeat officially that it did not recognize the Republic of Cyprus. Then came the statements by French Ambassador to Nicosia Hadelin de La Tour-du-Pin. Among other things, the ambassador said his country «demanded» that Nicosia accept the document that had been agreed upon with London. Diplomatic sources say Greek Cypriots must still ensure that Turkey is encouraged away from past practices and behavior, and adapt to political choices that conform with the principles on which the European Union has been built, in particular with international law and the peaceful settlement of differences. That would have a positive effect not only on the Cyprus issue and Greek-Turkish relations, but on substantive democratization in Turkey – respect for human rights, religious freedom and the Kurdish question. Greek-British dispute This turn of events, due chiefly to the French stance concerning the EU’s response to Turkey’s refusal to accept the Republic of Cyprus – one of the 25 members of the «club» it wants to join – has put all the above-mentioned goals at risk. It seems that Paris had a two-pronged aim from the outset. It wanted to create difficulties for the British EU presidency, something which it achieved to a large extent. And, for domestic political purposes, it wanted to make its objection felt to Turkey’s future relationship with the EU. In other words, it never planned to block the accession talks with Turkey. Its aim is to block the accession itself. Sources say France has told Nicosia that on no account should it raise the issue of postponing the talks, which are scheduled to start October 3. At the same time, the EU presidency – currently held by the traditionally pro-Turkey British – has used the problem of lack of agreement among the member states on the form of the response to Ankara’s declaration to produce a mild document that would not upset Turkey, whose consensus on the EU text it sought at every stage of the process. This tactic led the Cypriot government to voice harsh criticism of London’s policy, and Athens to express intense dissatisfaction, since certain decisions by the presidency were in complete contrast with the image projected by British diplomats to the Greek Foreign Affairs Ministry. The communication channel between Britain and Greece was open, which the Greeks had sought, given their caution about the French tactics. This caution was not caused by but fed by Paris’s decision not to give the Greek government first-hand information about its decisions. After long, hard negotiations at many levels behind the scenes, what eventually emerged gave the impression that Cyprus was being politically isolated and Greece was being involved in a new crisis, since it could not differentiate its position either in terms of strategy or of tactics, from that of Cyprus, even when the latter, influenced by the French rhetoric, raised its demands to the EU. Of course, Turkey (which, as if it already had confirmation, said from the start that it was far from sure that there would be any European counter-declaration) found itself in a very difficult position at times. The most important of these was the publication of the findings of the EU legal service that the declaration had no legal validity and that the start and conduct of accession talks with the EU constituted de facto recognition of the Republic of Cyprus. This crucial point seems to have been forgotten amid the tension and inconclusive arguments in the conference hall of the EU’s Council of Permanent Representatives (COREPER). After the first unsuccessful COREPER meeting, what little progress was made by the foreign ministers in Newport in Wales was gradually lost, as the final French-British agreement almost canceled out any achievements. Retrograde Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos, who was in New York and so not in direct contact with the events taking place in Europe, seems to be making Nicosia’s tactics more realistic now that he can foresee the danger of retrograde steps that would harm Cyprus. This was evident in his meeting at UN headquarters with Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis. He is seeking the formulation of a European position containing elements that will be useful to Cyprus in the future, such as the full implementation of the Protocol, and, of course, its control by a clearly defined effective monitoring mechanism. In this respect, there was some progress in the final, exceptional meeting about which Athens and the British presidency had so much to say. This is the basis for the renewal of optimism that an agreement can be reached at COREPER’s next regular or exceptional meeting or at the last-minute meeting of foreign ministers. Athens has said only that there is room for compromise but that the impasse must be resolved as soon as possible. «The fastest possible adoption of the European counter-declaration is of great importance,» says a diplomatic source. And the EU response to Ankara must be published, as some of its leading proponents have already shown their great annoyance that this has still not been done.