Alert over Cyprus

The runoff vote for Greece’s municipal and regional elections is likely to deflect attention from the Athens visit tomorrow by Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides. But it shouldn’t. The coming weeks will be crucial for the Cyprus issue and it would be a grave error to take comfort in the European Commission’s recent positive recommendation on Cyprus’s EU membership, which is expected to receive ratification at the extraordinary EU summit next week. United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s settlement proposal, which is due to be submitted in November – that is after Turkey’s parliamentary elections on November 3 – will also be a crucial development. Athens and Nicosia are anxious as to whether the UN plan will lie within the framework of UN resolutions, since hopes for their implementation have repeatedly met with Ankara’s categorical refusal, as expressed through the lips of the Turkish-Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash. In addition, Greece is concerned over whether Annan’s plan will ensure a single political voice for Cyprus or whether it will favor a direct or indirect consolidation of two separate state entities. Although Athens and Nicosia have a genuine wish to finally solve the Cyprus issue, the Greek-Cypriot side will clearly reject any plan that does not provide for a single Cypriot state. It would be rather unfortunate for Athens to have to participate in the EU’s Copenhagen summit (December 12-13), which will take the final decisions on enlargement, with Nicosia having been forced to turn down an unacceptable UN settlement proposal shortly before that. This would give some states the opportunity to exploit a perfectly legitimate refusal by the Cypriot government in their attempt to put the brakes on Cyprus’s accession. Turkey, of course, is in a much tougher position as it cannot be sure that it will have managed to form a government by December, should the ballot indeed confirm forecasts of the poor performance by Turkish parties, save the pro-Islamic one. Turkey, however, has far less to lose at this summit than Greece and Cyprus do. Athens and Nicosia have to work hard to circumvent any obstacles. As for celebrations, these can wait until December 13.