Retreat on Cyprus

The compromise reached in the New York talks last week signals a clear retreat by the Greek side. Tempted by a vague reference to the European Union, it agreed to participate in negotiations, along with Turkey, and commissioned United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to «fill in the blanks» in a deal on the reunification of Cyprus. The Greek side was seeking a pretext as it did not dare appear to be turning a solution down – something that Ankara has done repeatedly over the past 30 years. As a result, the Greek side endorsed an Annan statement which welcomes the European Commission’s «technical assistance,» even though the compatibility of the solution with the acquis communautaire and EU standards is substantial, not just «technical.» This does not seem to cause problems for Messrs Simitis and Papandreou. Worse is the fact that Annan accepted the Turkish proposal for a meeting involving Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots and the mother countries Greece and Turkey. Since 1974, when Turkey invaded the island, successive Greek governments had characterized the Cyprus problem as an international issue. Nevertheless, on Friday evening Greece accepted the proposal for a four-sided meeting which will likely have to produce the bulk of the agreement, given that the Turkish side insists on recognition of two state entities on the island. Greece will no longer be able to claim that Cyprus takes the decisions while Athens has a mere supportive role. Rather, it will have to negotiate essential issues and under severe pressure. Moreover, if no full agreement is reached, then the final additions will be made by the secretary-general – a blow to the autonomous status of the Republic of Cyprus. Furthermore, Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos accepted the UN blueprint under pressure from PM Costas Simitis, but in the four-sided meeting Greece will probably be represented by a New Democracy government. Costas Simitis and George Papandreou, his successor as PASOK chairman, should have asked for a postponement until after the elections – which are being held prematurely on the pretext of Cyprus-related developments. Greece’s retreat, despite the advantage of Cyprus’s certain EU accession on May 1, undoes a long effort that was supposedly aimed at disengaging the political dispute from the Mediterranean island’s EU membership and which is effectively used to promote a solution that appears to be incompatible with the acquis communautaire.