EU force and Cyprus

Although the precise content of the compromise reached at last weekend’s extraordinary summit in Brussels over the issue of Europe’s nascent rapid reaction force has not been made public yet, current information leads to the conclusion that the settlement is rather unfavorable for Greek interests. The original agreement between the United States, Britain and Turkey has been modified, but its overall spirit remains the same. Ankara will have a say on the Euroforce given that this will not have its own defense infrastructure and will use NATO assets instead. We should not rush to criticize the Greek prime minister and his foreign minister for their handling of the issue. The issue of NATO relations with the Euroforce is, institutionally speaking, irrelevant to Cyprus’s future EU membership. However, some of Greece’s EU peers made a clear attempt to draw a political connection between the two, indirectly and informally. In other words, they called on Athens to maintain a more flexible stance that would open the way for the formation of the EU force. Most essentially, Greece was reassured that the removal of the current deadlock would have a positive effect on the overall climate and forestall any obstacles to Cyprus’s accession. The crucial issue is whether Athens has extracted any concrete payoffs or reliable guarantees. In truth, there can be no enlargement without Cyprus. But this does not mean that the accession of the Mediterranean island is a foregone conclusion. The Simitis administration is rightly trying to resolve all outstanding issues so as to put all its weight behind this crucial national issue. The EU’s Copenhagen summit in December, which will make the final decision on expansion, will not be merely procedural. Nearly all of Greece’s EU partners are reluctant to inherit the Cyprus dispute. However, the overwhelming majority agree that in light of the Helsinki decision and Cyprus’s adaptation to the acquis communautaire, the island has to join the EU. Simitis’s tour around EU capitals is aimed at softening objections and dispelling concerns. He is seeking reassurances from his EU peers so as to avoid any nasty surprises at Copenhagen. A lot, however, will depend on UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s settlement proposal on Cyprus that is due after Turkey’s parliamentary polls on November 3. Athens is worried that it may be too unfavorable for Cyprus to accept. In such case, some states may use the opportunity to torpedo Cyprus’s accession.