OPINION

The sting of Helsinki

In the beginning things were pretty simple: The Helsinki agreement was seen as guaranteeing that a solution to the Cyprus problem is not a precondition for the island’s EU membership. These are to be treated as two separate issues. If the problem were solved before accession, so much the better. If not, then the EU would go on with Cyprus’s accession. Athens, of course, would never accept any other development. This clear picture has now vanished. Cyprus’s EU membership is not only connected to a political settlement but also to the issue of the EU’s rapid reaction force and Ankara’s request for an EU membership talks date. Hence EU membership is treated as a part of a significant political «package» and the entire state of affairs has nothing to do with Prime Minister Costas Simitis’s simplistic interpretation at Helsinki in December 1999. Simitis paid no attention to the fact that although Article 9b of the Helsinki conclusions disengaged Cyprus’s accession from a prior solution, the last sentence mentioned that in its decision «the Council will take account of all relevant factors.» It is this phrase which has allowed the connection of Cyprus’s accession with the other issues of the package. It would be of little importance to examine now whether the Greek delegation at Helsinki was aware what the implications of putting its signature under this sentence would be. What is important, rather, is that the Greek government must respect its signature on the conclusions of the Helsinki summit, including the much-discussed sentence contained in Article 9b. As a result, Greece must cooperate with its EU peers in assessing «all the relevant factors» – in this sting in the tail of the Helsinki agreement; a sting that many of Greece’s politicians have only just discovered.