Cyprus referendum

The clarifications by EU enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen yesterday resolved the misunderstanding caused by his remarks on Wednesday that a «no» vote by Greek Cypriots in the referendum foreseen by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s reunification plan would mean a public rejection of Cyprus’s EU membership. His observation yesterday that accession is irreversible and that it is up to the new members to choose how to ratify it (and despite its being accompanied by a memo on the procedures of the Annan plan) confirmed that it is up to Cyprus to decide how it will authorize the membership agreement – whether through a referendum or a National Council resolution. (Note that Greece joined the EEC and the eurozone without holding a referendum on either of those issues.) The referendum described in the UN plan concerns EU accession by a «new state of affairs» and not by the current establishment. This clarification does not mean that the talks on Annan’s proposal (which has only been accepted as a basis for negotiations) should not clarify the issue. Besides, these talks will have to settle many other issues which have so far stagnated because of Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash’s intransigence. The two sides will have to settle all legal issues that remain foggy. It is not proper to make doomsday prophecies using extremely legalistic interpretations. Most importantly, it’s neither proper nor beneficial to introduce legalistic argumentation into a major issue, deflecting attention from the crucial political issues that will emerge whether a settlement is reached or not. Regardless of whether Verheugen’s original comment was misinterpreted, mistaken, or a sign of ambiguity, it’s a fact that the EU respects certain procedures for its institutional issues and is not prepared to compromise them for the sake of Denktash – as it did not compromise them in Copenhagen. Of course, other parameters remain, such as political pressure for a settlement of the Cyprus issue and pressure stemming from the unacceptable status quo of Turkish occupation. These crucial elements should be taken into consideration during future diplomatic rounds and lead us to an ultimate acceptance or rejection of the final plan. There must be legal clarifications when necessary. But these do not comprise the heart of the problem. Nor should we rush to see EU machinations behind these legal ambiguities, as if European officials signed the Copenhagen decisions without any intention to abide with them.

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