OPINION

Crucial days

On Monday, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to present his proposal for a solution to the Cyprus problem and the countdown will begin. Neither the Greek nor the Turkish side will rush to put their cards on the table as neither wishes to take the blame for a direct denial, even if they deem the proposed solution to be unacceptable. Both Athens and Nicosia have every reason to reach a settlement on the Cyprus dispute as soon as possible – even more so now as, on top of the overall aim to reunite the Mediterranean island, there is the additional incentive that a prior solution would allow the entire island to join the EU. On the contrary, should negotiations fail, it is very likely that Ankara will react; not so much by means of military provocations but with an indirect annexation of the occupied territory, as its outgoing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit has threatened. It is obvious that materializing this threat would inflict a huge diplomatic cost on Turkey. Its ties with the EU would come under severe strain. A decision for a date on membership talks with the EU – one of the main targets of Ankara’s foreign policy – would be postponed indefinitely and Turkey would suffer a severe blow, particularly now that political Islam achieved a landslide victory at the country’s parliamentary elections. All these push the Turkish side to enter negotiations, although nothing is certain yet. Current information on the UN plan is quite alarming, prompting Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides to say that he would prefer the proposal to be made after presidential elections in Cyprus in February. His request will most likely be ignored, but it is indicative of the current climate in Nicosia. During his recent contacts with Western European leaders, Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis has extracted positive reassurances as regards their stance on the issue of Cyprus’s accession. Several small countries insist on their reservations and could raise objections at the Copenhagen summit, but from an institutional and political perspective Cyprus’s exclusion from the next wave of enlargement is unthinkable. Attention should focus on averting machinations that aim to separate Cyprus from the other nine candidates. This also means rebuffing any attempt to connect the island’s accession with a solution to the political question.