Cyprus: Now the difficult part begins

The UN’s secretary-general, Kofi Annan, arrives in Cyprus this week in an attempt to break the stalemate in talks between Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash and to work toward an agreement on the general principles for a federated Cypriot Republic. However, both sides have reservations as to the outcome of Annan’s visit, which is aimed at reaching agreement on a solution, if possible before the political decision to expand the European Union at the Copenhagen summit in December 2002, and, of course, before the signing of the accession treaty during Greece’s presidency of the EU in the first half of next year. Time is running out; therefore diplomatic sources believe that Annan will set out, if not a comprehensive plan, then at least specific ideas for overcoming the stalemate on all controversial issues. Annan is certainly taking with him a package of well thought-out proposals and alternatives. Denktash has threatened to withdraw from the talks if the UN Secretariat presents a plan, but is unlikely to carry out his threat because of the enormous political responsibility he would be taking upon himself and Ankara. Indirect recognition The Turkish side has already made gains from Annan’s visit even before his arrival. The fact that he will be visiting Denktash at his «presidential» office in the Turkish-occupied northern sector of Cyprus is an indirect form of recognition. It is a sign of the times that the UN secretary-general himself is to violate Security Council Resolutions 541 and 550 that require avoidance of any act which could be perceived as recognition of the Turkish-Cypriot pseudo-state. It will also be a violation of the European Court of Justice rulings that view the Turkish-Cypriot regime as a local government body subject to Turkish authority. No UN secretary-general has ever visited the occupied sector before. Well-informed diplomatic sources claim that many of the proposals Annan is bringing with him will be particularly painful for the Greek Cypriots to accept. Everything will depend on whether Denktash will stand his ground concerning two separate states or whether he will try to maneuver. If the latter occurs, it is considered certain that the pressure will be mainly on Clerides and indirectly but clearly linked with Cyprus’s EU accession process. Officially, this process is independent of the search for a political solution on the island, but in reality the opposite is true. Gathering clouds Although nothing has officially changed on the Cyprus issue, clouds have been gathering on the horizon. The Turks are in a particularly difficult position; until recently they had been threatening to annex the occupied territories if Cyprus joins the EU with the issue still open. Recently they have resorted to a more abstract formulation that they will react strongly and provoke a crisis, as evident in a recent statement to that effect by the moderate Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem. If Turkey annexes the occupied sector, the action will not be recognized by the international community. There is a precedent in Iraq’s annexation of Kuwait, as well as Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights. It would also be extremely difficult from a moral and political standpoint for Europe to invoke an illegal act in order to block Cyprus’s membership. Once Cyprus joins the EU, the northern occupied sector will be considered EU territory and the EU will have to take political measures against the occupying force, given that Turkey is a candidate for EU membership itself. In that event, a freeze on EU-Turkish relations would seem inevitable. There is, of course, the likelihood that Ankara will use its military in Cyprus either to create an incident or at least escalate tension in order to frighten the Europeans away from involvement in the area. This would unavoidably lead to a crisis between Greece and Turkey. According to reliable sources, Athens is preparing for such an eventuality. Of course, it does not want to get drawn into a state of tension, but it also cannot stand by if Turkish provocations create a negative situation. Prime Minister Costas Simitis and Foreign Minister George Papandreou discussed that very problem in a two-hour meeting last Wednesday. The threat of an incident would lead by mathematical precision to intervention by the US, something that Ankara wants, in the hope that it might avert Cyprus’s accession to the EU, or at least that it might obtain something worthwhile in exchange. Finding themselves at an advantage with regard to their role in a Euroarmy, the Turks are aiming to have a date set at the Copenhagen summit for their own accession talks. However, the European Commission believes that Turkey does not fulfill the necessary conditions; nor are the member states in favor of it as a whole. Countdown Well-informed sources claim that Papandreou has promised Cem that the Greek EU presidency will make an official proposal at the Thessaloniki summit in June 2003 to set a date for Turkey’s accession talks to begin. In practice, this would mean a countdown to Turkey’s membership of the EU. However it is doubtful whether Ankara will see this as sufficient bait to abandon its objections to Cyprus’s membership. The post-Kemal regime has become accustomed to taking what it wants and making promises in return, not the other way around. The Europeans are also in a difficult position, as they do not want to inherit the Cyprus problem and be forced to take measures against Turkey. On the other hand, they have no desire to violate the commitment they made at the Helsinki summit. The only way to do so would be to find a viable solution that is compatible with the acquis communautaire. However, since there is no guarantee that such a solution will be found in the coming months, there are several scenarios being heard on the sidelines. Some of these invoke a tiny vague phrase in the Helsinki resolution that for Cyprus to join the EU, prevailing conditions will be taken into account. That phrase was added precisely for the purpose of being used as a loophole. Just a few days ago, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana made an indirect threat that if the Cyprus talks broke down, only the southern, unoccupied part would be allowed to join and not Cyprus as a whole. Shortly beforehand, German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said that Cyprus’s accession should not be considered as a given if the problem were not resolved. All these statements (and much more being said on the sidelines) are of political significance. On the other hand, what is working in favor of Cyprus’s membership is the powerful force of the EU’s institutional processes. Along with Slovenia, Cyprus is the best prepared of any of the 10 candidate member states. Those countries chosen at the December summit to join the EU will do so as part of a joint accession treaty, which is already being processed. Therefore Cyprus cannot be treated separately, either by member governments or by their parliaments. Naturally the Greek Parliament will opt to be the last to ratify the enlargement treaty in order to avoid any unpleasant surprises. If the question of excluding Cyprus arises in Copenhagen, Greece has made it clear that it will block the enlargement. Even in the unlikely event that the Simitis government does not exercise its right to veto, the Greek Parliament would never ratify a treaty that did not include Cyprus. There is of course the chance that the enlargement might be delayed. It is common knowledge that Paris is not enthusiastic about it, while there are also reservations in other European capitals. Nevertheless, the political decision has been made, the institutional process set in motion and therefore any postponement would be a strike against the EU’s prestige. No guarantee Simitis is justified in believing that signing Cyprus’s membership accord during the Greek EU presidency would be an historic achievement and a bonus for his government in view of the next parliamentary elections. However, there is no guarantee of such an eventuality. As pointed out above, there are no institutional obstacles, unless the Turkish Cypriots change their policy and ask to be included in accession talks this coming fall. This would delay the accession process, but for the moment at least it does not seem to be part of Turkish policy. The problem lies at the political level. Ankara is looking for a way to torpedo Cyprus’s accession, while the Europeans do not want to inherit the Cyprus problem. The combination is a volatile one. The only certainty is that as the deadline approaches, the difficulties will increase.