The so-called Independent Commission on Turkey released a report today – Turkey in Europe: Breaking the Vicious Circle – extolling the perceived virtues of Turkey’s EU membership and criticising the EU for stalling over Turkey's accession process. Naturally, the report has a section devoted to Cyprus and how the failure to resolve the division of the island is adversely affecting Turkey’s EU prospects. In relation to Cyprus, the report entirely reflects the Turkish point of view. In fact, it regurgitates the Turkish position so completely that it could well have been written by the Turkish foreign ministry. For example, the report says:
‘The EU brought this problem [i.e. the problem Cyprus poses for Turkey’s EU accession] upon itself by accepting Cyprus’s one million inhabitants into the Union even though they had yet to resolve their inter-communal differences.’– i.e even though the Republic of Cyprus easily fulfilled EU membership criteria, the EU was wrong to let the Republic of Cyprus join – and the Cyprus problem is not one of invasion and occupation, but of damaged relations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
Also: ‘The republic broke down in 1963, when the Greek Cypriots excluded Turkish Cypriot leaders from government and drove the Turkish Cypriots into barricaded quarters of towns and isolated villages.’
This is, of course, hook, line and sinker, the Turkish propaganda version of events. A more honest history would acknowledge that the Turkish Cypriots were engaged in a political and terrorist campaign aimed at partition and that they voluntarily withdrew from the organs of state and any isolation and ghettoisation they suffered was self-imposed, as Turk nationalists sought to concentrate the island’s Turk population in preparation for Turkish invasion and enforced ethnic division.
On closer inspection, we discover how independent this so-called Independent Commission on Turkey really is. Its front men and women are mostly has-been Eurocrats – including: Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland; Emma Bonino, former European Commissioner; Michel Rocard, former prime minister of France; Hans van den Broek, former foreign minister of the Netherlands; and Marcelino Oreja Aguirre, former foreign minister of Spain – but it’s the report’s sponsors that tells us who it is furthering Turkey’s interests and serving Turkish propaganda, and they are: 1. The British Council – the UK’s ‘international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities’; and 2. The Open Society Foundation – which is an arm of George Soros’ nefarious Open Society Institute.
The whole of the report can be read here, while below is the extract that refers to Cyprus.
A new urgency in Cyprus
The Cyprus problem is approaching a new and critical crossroads. After five years in limbo following the Republic of Cyprus’s entry into the EU, developments over the next year will likely determine whether or not the island will be indefinitely divided. The EU member states bear a political responsibility for the current situation. It also faces a political imperative to do its utmost to encourage Greek and Turkish Cypriots to reach a satisfactory conclusion to the ongoing talks, which look like the last chance for a federal settlement.
The difficulty of reaching this objective is small compared to the likely complications of failure. EU governments will be caught between loyalty to a member state and their important strategic interests in Turkey. Failure in the talks will mean further hindrance of cooperation between the EU and NATO because of Cyprus-Turkey differences, and continued blockage in opening more chapters that could bring the EU-Turkey negotiations to a standstill. Cyprus has remained peaceful for decades, but the EU has unfastened the balances of the old status quo and, with tens of thousands of troops on the island, this is a conflict that might unfreeze.
The EU brought this problem upon itself by accepting Cyprus’s one million inhabitants into the Union even though they had yet to resolve their inter-communal differences. It has thus imported the whole tangled history of the island into its inner councils. The troubles started in earnest after independence from Britain in 1960, when the 80% Greek Cypriot community and 20% Turkish Cypriot community set up a joint republic, guaranteed by Britain, Greece and Turkey. The republic broke down in 1963, when the Greek Cypriots excluded Turkish Cypriot leaders from government and drove the Turkish Cypriots into barricaded quarters of towns and isolated villages. After the colonels’ regime in Athens backed a Greek Cypriot coup in Cyprus in 1974 that aimed to unite the island with Greece, Turkey invoked its right to intervene as guarantor and staged a military invasion, eventually occupying the northern 37% of the island.
Impending membership of the EU in 2004 changed many Cypriot dynamics. Years of UN-mediated talks on a deal to reunify the island and remove Turkish troops had not progressed far due to continued old-style nationalist grandstanding on both sides. But at a referendum, the Turkish Cypriots, backed by Turkey, voted 65% in favour of the UN-brokered deal, known as the Annan Plan, whereas 76% of Greek Cypriots voted against it.
Even though the EU had publicly and insistently backed the Annan Plan, it nevertheless allowed the Greek Cypriots to enter as the sole representatives of the island. One of the Republic of Cyprus’s first actions as a member was to force the EU to break its political promise to reward the Turkish Cypriots for their “yes” vote, blocking a Direct Trade Regulation that would have allowed Turkish Cypriots direct access to EU markets. Greek Cypriot embargoes on Turkish Cypriots were first criticized by UN Secretary General U Thant as a “veritable siege” in 1964, and in 2004 UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said “the Turkish Cypriot vote has undone any rationale for pressuring and isolating them”.
In response to the perceived unfairness, Turkey then back-tracked
on its obligation under the Additional Protocol to the 1963
Association Agreement to open its airports and sea ports to
Greek Cypriot traffic.
The situation is not hopeless, however. The Greek Cypriot community registered a notable change of heart in presidential elections in February 2008. In the first round, two-thirds of the electorate voted for candidates who campaigned on compromise strategies for reunification. The ultimate winner, President Demetris Christofias, soon embarked on a promising new round of talks with his counterpart, Mehmet Ali Talat, who had led the Turkish Cypriots to vote “yes” to the Annan Plan.
These talks are registering significant progress, but risk succumbing to complacency and are running short of time. First and foremost, responsibility for reaching a settlement lies with Cypriots themselves. But they need the full support of EU governments and Turkish decision-makers in Ankara. EU leaders can achieve this through frequent visits to the Cypriot communities and leaderships on both sides of the island, to raise their morale and attract positive popular attention to the process; by sponsoring eye-catching bi-communal projects and interaction between two communities that can rekindle enthusiasm for reunification; by regular visits to Ankara to underline that Turkey is on track to membership of the EU and that continuation of its existing support for a Cyprus settlement will help it reach the EU goal; and by persuading Greece to use its influence to intercede with the Greek Cypriot community, explaining the benefits of compromise and normalization with Turkey. EU leaders should also make clear how wrong the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey both are to believe that pressure from Brussels alone can force changes in the other’s antagonistic positions. For a Cyprus settlement to gain traction, officials from the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey will also have to meet and learn to trust each other.
Failure to reach a settlement this year will be costly to all sides. EU leaders must challenge the apparent view in both Cypriot communities that the status quo is sustainable indefinitely and show that peace through compromise can bring many benefits. Turkish Cypriots will win full citizenship rights and integration into the EU, with all the economic and political advantages that entails. Greek Cypriots will be able to live without fear of Turkish soldiers manning a line through the middle of their divided capital, will see the island become a real east Mediterranean hub through full access to Turkey, the region’s biggest economy. According to a study by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), the Cypriot economy will grow by an additional ten percentage points within seven years. Both Greece and Cyprus will gain a more pro- European Turkey as a neighbour that will be inclined to settle conflicts over the Aegean and Mediterranean territorial waters. Turkey will win a more open negotiating road for EU membership, greater stature in Europe and official language status for Turkish in the EU. At the same time it will lose the financial burden of its Cyprus garrison and the subsidy consumed by the Turkish Cypriot administration.
Since the EU and Turkey are currently paying the political cost of the Cypriots’ failure to compromise, EU leaders should engage more actively to prevent the Cyprus problem derailing Turkey’s accession process. This process is essential for Turkey’s transformation and is of vital importance to the EU and Cyprus as well. Alongside their efforts to support a settlement on the island, the EU should search for ways and means that lead to the fulfilment of Turkey’s commitment to open its airports and sea ports to Greek Cypriot traffic, a development that would immediately release eight chapters to the Turkey-EU negotiating process and win time to reach a fuller Cyprus settlement. The EU could do this through reviving its 2004 promise to end Turkish Cypriot isolation through direct trade and try to overcome obstacles to direct international flights to the Turkish Cypriots’ own airport.
The EU must assume its responsibility for the injustices and absurdities of the situation. The whole of Cyprus is theoretically now part of the European Union; on the other hand, the acquis communautaire of the Union is officially suspended in the north; at the same time, the European Court of Justice has ruled that Greek Cypriot court judgments about the north are enforceable throughout the Union. A Cyprus settlement, and the need for all sides to avoid provocations and work for a solution, is now urgent. Grandstanding between gunboats and oil survey ships in the waters around Cyprus, Turkey and Greece in November 2008 shows where deepening frustrations may lead: similar frictions between Turkey and EU-member Greece very nearly resulted in armed conflict in 1987 and 1996, crises which the EU was powerless to solve and which had to be settled by the United States. The Turkish Cypriots in April 2009 voted in a new, more nationalist government, signalling that without a settlement Mehmet Ali Talat may lose his seat in the April 2010 presidential elections to a candidate less committed to a solution. Non-solution and neverending negotiations in Cyprus will raise tensions on the island and will indefinitely block the EU-Turkey process. If old friends like Talat and Christofias fail to reach a federal settlement, it is hard to see how anyone either inside or outside Cyprus will ever mobilize behind a new effort. Yet managing the alternative, the partition of Cyprus, will be extremely divisive for the EU. European leaders have compelling interests to work with priority commitment for a negotiated Cyprus settlement in 2009, because the chance of a federal solution and demilitarization of the island will certainly not come again in this political generation.