OPINION

Lessons

Regardless of the fact that the outcome of the Buergenstock talks dashed overoptimistic expectations that Cyprus’s EU membership would automatically (via the UN peace deal) lead to a settlement, it should be noted that the EU momentum is still the only hope of reaching a viable solution. This reality, however, entailed an inflexible condition that Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan ought to fulfill: a guarantee that a deal would be in line with the acquis communautaire. Given that the changes in the UN plan run up against basic stipulations of international law (such as the number of Turkish settlers and troops) and foresaw indefinite derogations from EU law, the Greek-Cypriot side had no option but to reject the proposed deal. An acceptance of the deal, on the other hand, would legitimize the existing partition and, what is more, Nicosia would have to cover the cost. A «no» was hence inevitable. The overwhelming majority of Greeks feel the same way. The few reservations to be heard are grounded in the fear that the status quo will be perpetuated – that this, in other words, is the end of the story, as Socialist leader and former foreign minister George Papandreou would be the first to agree. Notably, although Papandreou placed much hope in the Annan plan, he rejected the draft released in Switzerland. Most Greek Cypriots feel the same way. A consensus will be a strong weapon in future negotiations to overcome the division. Because the Cyprus issue is not over. What is over, on the other hand, is Annan’s insistence on a tight procedure despite the fact that many points agreed by the two sides could be the bases for a fresh round of talks. For the Greek side, the bankruptcy of Annan’s machinations is a diplomatic lesson in the sense that the former government of Costas Simitis should have rejected the procedure from the start. But there is one more lesson to be drawn, this time from the stand of EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen. The European official yesterday criticized the Greek-Cypriot side while he should have been the first to reject an agreement that scrapped EU law. Verheugen’s remarks and US President George Bush’s telephone contact with Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis are both signs of pressure in the coming month aiming to force a Greek «yes» vote at the referendum on April 20. Nicosia and Athens, however, have strong counterarguments to project. The stronger their consensus, the stronger their position will be. The Greek side must insist on the fact that the proposed deal is out of sync with fundamental EU values and principles – in fact those that the wordy commissioner supposedly aims to safeguard.