OPINION

Political embarrassment

The decision by Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides to participate in the presidential election on February 16, contradicting a decision he had made earlier, is an expression of profound political embarrassment which originated in Athens and materialized in Nicosia. This embarrassment stems from the Greek side’s view that if a solution to the political problem of Cyprus is not achieved, the accession of Cyprus to the European Union will mean formal recognition of the island’s partitioning. This is the reason for the eagerness to accept the completely unworkable and in many respects unacceptable plan proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Clerides was persuaded to become a candidate in the upcoming election by the invocation of historical reasons imposed by the exercise of the presidency for the next 16 months, that is until Cyprus’s full accession to the EU in May 2004. The fact that this denigrates all the other presidential candidates as being supposedly against a solution, or unsuitable, or incapable of solving the Cyprus problem does not seem to concern the powerbrokers in Athens and Nicosia unduly. Even this rather inelegant maneuver might be justified if it had any chance of being effective. But Turk-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash’s stance removes any hopes on the Greek side. The Turkish military, diplomatic and political establishment, which was crushed in the recent elections, suffered a tactical defeat from the decision that Cyprus may accede to the EU, and it is trying to turn this unfavorable development to its advantage. In line with that strategy, Denktash will not accept Annan’s plan as he believes it is in his interests to wait until partition is virtually acknowledged by Cyprus’s full accession to the EU. Then he will most likely return to negotiating a solution, without making any concessions on territory or sovereignty, in the hope that the incorporation of the Republic of Cyprus into the EU will bolster his claim that there are two states on the island, which international opinion currently refuses to accept. Opposed to this policy are both the Turkish-Cypriot demonstrators, who may be forced to leave northern Cyprus, and the unofficial leader of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Prudence dictates waiting until the issue is clarified in Ankara. But the panic of quite a few people in Athens and Nicosia at the possible electoral victory of Clerides’s opponents is turning the presidential election in Cyprus into an untimely, unofficial referendum on the Annan plan. And in this way, what is obviously an unworkable solution is emerging as a supplement to Cyprus’s EU accession.