Cyprus Remains Biggest Hurdle For Turkey’s EU Accession


Amidst the analysis of Turkey’s “eastern turn” and the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) alleged ambivalence toward Europe, the ongoing political conflict among Turkey, Greece, Turkish Cypriots, Greek Cypriots, and the European Union over Cyprus remains the largest obstacle to Turkey’s European Union accession.
European leaders are holding a summit today and tomorrow in Brussels to decide whether to make Cyprus an even bigger impediment to Turkey’s membership. I think this would be a mistake, but first a bit of background.
Cyprus is a small island in the Eastern Mediterranean – about 40 miles south of Turkey and 60 miles west of Syria – divided between Turkish Cypriots in the North and Greek Cypriots in the south. The Greek Cypriot government is recognized by the international community (with the exception of Turkey) as exercising sovereignty over the entire island. However, the Greek Cypriot government’s sovereignty over the northern part of the island has been true only in theory since the Turkish Cypriots formed their own government and declared an independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in 1983. The two entities are completely separate politically and a visitor to Northern Cyprus is unlikely to meet a single Greek. (Full Disclosure – I recently returned from attending the TNRC’s independence day celebration as a guest of the government).
Turkey remains heavily involved on the island as a result of the massive subsidy it provides to keep the TRNC economically viable. Turkey also maintains somewhere between 20,000 and 40,000 soldiers (estimates vary) on the northern part of the island. The Turkish army invaded the island when violence broke out between Turks and Greeks in 1974, and has insisted on staying since in order to guarantee the security of the Turkish Cypriots.
The last opportunity for a solution came in 2004 when the “Annan Plan” of a bizonal, bicommunal, bifederal, unified state was voted down by the Greek Cypriots in a referendum.
The reason that the conflict represents an existential threat to Turkey’s European Union negotiations is that the Greek Cypriot government (or the Republic of Cyprus, as they preferred to be called) became a member of the European Union in May 2004.
As a result of the ongoing conflict – and specifically Turkey’s refusal to open its ports and airports
to Greek Cypriot vessels – the Greek Cypriots have blocked eight of the 35 negotiating chapters Turkey must fulfill to become part of Europe.
That brings us to today’s summit and whether Europe should impose additional sanctions on Turkey.
If there is one thing that I learned from my meetings in Cyprus with Turkish and Turkish Cypriot government officials and journalists it is that Turkey is very unlikely to “sell out” the Turkish Cypriots in order to curry favor with Europe. Imposing further sanctions will not change Turkey’s strategic calculus with regard to Cyprus and is unlikely to encourage Turkey to make concessions.
It is especially important for Europe to tread lightly right now given the status of the negotiations between Turkish Cypriot President Mehmet Ali Talat and Greek Cypriot President Demetris Christofias. Talat and Christofias represent the most conciliatory parts of each side’s highly nationalist political spectrum. The two leaders have met dozens of times over the past fourteen months to try to hash out an agreement.
While the talks are not going well, there is no good reason for Europe to make it easier for nationalist elements in Turkey and on both sides of Cyprus to stifle the negotiations. This is especially true given that President Talat faces reelection in April and is likely to lose to a more hard-line candidate (most likely current hard-line Turkish Cypriot Prime Minister Dervis Eroglu) if he cannot deliver a deal.
Europe also risks its credibility as a global actor if it allows one (or two – if you include Greece) country to dictate its foreign policy on such an important issue. The best thing Europe can do now is try to get out of the way and hope the parties can reach an agreement.
— Ben Katcher


9 comments on “Cyprus Remains Biggest Hurdle For Turkey’s EU Accession

  1. George Kalis says:

    I have to agree with Commenter Kyriakos that as an American
    citizen of Greek heritage I feel ashamed that in the name of U.S.
    foreign policy interests, the independence of Cyprus has and is
    still being sacrificed. It is equally disturbing how biased is the
    often the coverage of the Cyprus issue in major U.S. newspapers.
    It makes you wonder on how many other issues is the coverage
    we are getting carefully crafted.
    The negative vote of the Greek Cypriots in the 2004 referendum
    has since 2004 been used by Turkey and the diplomatic circles
    who support Turkey as en excuse to put blame on the victim,
    that is on Cyprus! It was a referendum and not an ultimatum
    after all! In a referendum people have the right to chose with
    their vote and if properly done the result could be either a yes or
    a no. It is outrageous that the propaganda machines of Turkey
    and primarily the U.K. would have us believe that the Greek
    Cypriots were obliged to have voted yes and because they didn’t
    they should be punished and Turkey should on the other hand
    be exonerated of the crime of invasion and occupation. To
    understand the negative/positive votes in the 2004 referendum
    one only has to look at the content of the “unification” plan that
    was on the table.
    What is sad is that Cyprus is being treated the same way in 2004
    as it was in 1974, as an expendable little peace on the
    chessboard of international politics.


  2. kyriacos says:

    “Commenter kyriacos conveniently forgets that the
    1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus was provoked by an
    illegal Greek coup d’état, destined to deprive
    Turkish Cypriots of their rights.”
    The illegal coup by the CIA-backed military dictatorship that
    ruled Greece from 1967 to 1974 is not forgotten. It was the pre-
    text used to “justify” the invasion of Cyprus by Turkey. The
    collusion between the US State Department under Henry
    Kissinger, the British who set the ethnic conflict in motion in
    Cyprus since the days of their colonial rule, the Turks and the
    Greek dictators is amply documented. For starters, on the
    collusion to invade and divide up Cyprus check out the books by
    Christopher Hitchens, or Brendan O’Malley and Ian Craig.
    The CIA and US State Department support for the Greek
    dictatorship in 1967-1974 (described by a US official at that
    time as “the best goddamn government since Pericle’s time”!)
    had as a primary goal the promotion of the partition of Cyprus.
    When Cyprus was invaded by Turkey in 1974 and violently
    partitioned, the Greek dictatorship run the curse of its useful life
    and fell within days of the invasion. The de facto partition and
    occupation of part of Cyprus by Turkey continues to this day…


  3. Ergun Kirlikovali says:

    EU applied double standards by accepting into the union, against EU policies and values, the Greek administration of Cyprus only with problems with Turkish Cypriots unsolved.
    The EU compounded this mistake by not keeping its promise to Turkish Cypriots of removing its economic isolation after the Turks accepted and the Greek Cypriots rejected the U.N. Peace plan in the referendum of 2004.
    There is no reason why that same UN plan, with minor adjustments in line with the outcome of recent talks between sides, could not be put to vote again within 30 days.
    There is nothing left un-negotiated on the island. What is missing is the political will on the part of the Greek Cypriots to accept a fair solution– based on bi-zonal, bi-national federal state founded by two equal partners. That is where the EU should step in and do something that they have always failed to do: apply pressure on Greek-Cypriots.


  4. says:

    Yes, this is probably true about Turkey that when it realised that its “secular role” is not being given the due worth it deserved for, the Turkish leadership seemed to have been giving space to the public opinion of getting more closed to the “cultural Islamic trends” and if that is the cause of the retribution that Turkey faces today, by no means this deportment/attitude given to Turkey is justifiable. And yet the most convincing fact argues that this new blowing wave of “Islamic mindedness” has been a logical backlash that is given by the Turks against the European Union’s no to the UN- sponsored and sanctioned norms of “multiculturalism”.
    Unquestionably,the political Islam gives no room for exercising social justice on the base of religious ghettos. Today the mega challenge that is confronted Europe is Europe’s passive response to multiculturalism.If today’s Europe/or the European Union has to eject its global role, it has has to jettison the norms of “cultural exclusiveness”-positively a sublime credo of the “European enlargement” of diffusing cultural diversities.Therefore to attach the question of Turkey entry into the European camp on the basis of religion is not acceptable to the Muslim community.


  5. nadine says:

    Syed, with Turkey becoming more Islamist by the day, the mind of Europe is not going to be prepared to take Turkey into the EU anytime soon. They didn’t like a large “secular” Muslim country; they certainly don’t want a large Islamist Muslim country. Not this year, not next, not ten years from now. No how, no way.


  6. nadine says:

    Hi kyriacos, Turkey is a powerful country, have you noticed? Therefore the US State Dept regards the Turkish ownership of northern Cyprus as set in stone. The Turks in your boyhood home are never called “settlers” and plenty of people will defend the invasion as premptive of the Greek election as if that made it defensive.
    Comparisons to actual defensive war Israel fought against Jordan in 1967 will never be made. No, in that case it’s reasonable to expect Israel to give everything back to jihadis planning to destroy the whole country and remove the “settlers”.
    But then, Israel is not a large and powerful country.


  7. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    Having read the two versions- one seems to be liberally touched by Mr Ben Katcher while the other is centripetally ridden and chauvinistically brushed by ideological pigments of partisanship- I am here to offer my own opinion the judgment of which rests to the readers.
    The debate regarding the historical facts and figures may provoke one to write a comprehensive book on this topic.The idea in substance may be linked to the future of Turkey’s EU membership and if that is true, one may reasonably argue that the case of the “Kosovo independence” and the joint role played by the EU,the UN and the US need no further explanation.This is correctly and fundamentally a question of the mindset that is being reflected by the EU leadership and that tells us that EU’s enlargement-success stories notwithstanding,the core issue is that the European leadership has not yet been able to prepare its mind to accommodate Turkey in its club.
    The set of conditionalities/bottlenecks laid down or coming in the way of Turkey’s entry;the Copenhagen criteria, the issue of the Greek Cyprus, the status of democracy in Turkey all seem to have been the “subjective references/stipulations”.
    Objectively speaking,the main issue is to have that political mind set that has to allow Turkey its justified place in the European camp. The day when the EU’s leaders would decide all the said hurdles would be over and Turkey would join the Union.


  8. Alexno says:

    Commenter kyriacos conveniently forgets that the
    1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus was provoked by an
    illegal Greek coup d’état, destined to deprive
    Turkish Cypriots of their rights. I remember the
    affair well.
    It continues to be the Greeks who vote down
    Anyway, I doubt if the Turks these days are that
    much interested in joining the EU. It is only the
    small elite in Istanbul who thinks that way.
    Rather this article springs from the desire in
    Washington to orient Turkey’s future towards the
    EU. It is a dead issue. Will never happen. EU
    leaders have continually said they don’t think
    Turkey is appropriate. And actually they are
    right. The Turks in general are not spiritually
    European. Only the descendants of the whisky-
    swilling Ataturk (or was it vodka?).


  9. kyriacos says:

    The report is a testament of to the typically biased coverage of
    Cyprus in American media. The pro-Turkish bias is so
    outrageous that it is hard to even begin exposing it. The article
    glosses over the continuing occupation of part of Cyprus by
    Turkey, in complete contempt of international law and UN
    resolutions. The Republic of Cyprus is a member state of the
    United Nations and the EU and Ben Katcher tries his best to
    obscure these facts. Take for example one of the numerous UN
    resolutions that Turkey as an occupying force has blatantly
    violated since the invasion of 1974; UN Resolution 550 (1984)
    adopted by the Security Council on 11 May 1984.
    The Security Council expressed its concern “about the further
    secessionist acts in the occupied part of the Republic of Cyprus
    which are in violation of Resolution 541(1983), namely the
    purported “exchange of Ambassadors” between Turkey and the
    legally invalid “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” and the
    contemplated holding of a “constitutional referendum” and
    “elections”, as well as by other actions aimed at further
    consolidating the purported independent state and the division
    of Cyprus. The UN Security Council in this same resolution
    expressed deep concerns “about recent threats for settlement of
    Varosha by people other than its inhabitants”, condemned “all
    secessionist actions, including the purported exchange of
    Ambassadors between Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot
    Leadership”, declared “them illegal and invalid and calls for their
    immediate withdrawal”, reaffirmed the call upon all States not to
    recognise the purported state of the “Turkish Republic of
    Northern Cyprus” set up by secessionist acts and called “upon
    them not to facilitate or in any way assist this the aforesaid
    secessionist entity”. The resolution was adopted at the 2539th
    meeting of the UN by 13 votes to 1 (Pakistan) with 1 abstention
    (United States of America).
    As an American citizen and as a Cypriot citizen I am deeply
    ashamed and embarassed for the support the US has provided
    through the State Department and through American media for
    the assault on a small defenseless Mediterranean island nation
    by the second largest army in NATO. Turkey will never join the
    EU unless it treats Cyprus as a sovereign state and not a former
    Ottoman province. American support for Turkey’s neo-ottoman
    aspirations of regional superpower status and a Trojan horse
    within the EU will be checked in Cyprus, in Paris, in Berlin,
    Amsterdam, Vienna…
    PS As a 12 year old boy in 1974 I was forced along with
    thousands to flee my hometown of Varosha, since them off
    limits in occupied north Cyprus, and never allowed to return.


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