What next for Cyprus?

Posted in Europe | 11-May-04 | Author: John Nomikos

Dr. John M. Nomikos is Director of the Research Institute for European and American Studies (RIEAS) in Athens and Member of the WSN International Advisory Board.
On April 24, a week before the Greek part of Cyprus was due to join the European Union, a referendum was held on United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan’s plan to end the Cypriot conflict and reunify the divided island. As expected, the Turkish sector voted by a large majority to adopt the plan. The thinking behind the “yes” vote from the Turkish Cypriots stemmed partly from concerns over economic and other consequences of Greek Cyprus joining the European Union on its own. But it was also the result of pressure from Turkey, which wanted to end the conflict on the island to ease its way into the European Union.

On the other side, the Greek sector voted “no” with an impressive majority and so torpedoed the agreement for reunification of the island according to the Annan Plan. The failure of the Annan Plan is a severe blow to United Nations prestige and to the Secretary General. The United Nations’ immediate response was to close down its offices on the island and to send its special envoy Alvaro de Soto home. It seems that the United Nations did not fully appreciate the depth of hostility between the parties and the need to end the cycle of violence and vengeance before launching efforts at bridging and compromise.

Furthermore, the international media presented the Annan Plan as a fair-minded compromise: the Greek Cypriots would regain some territory, and what was presented as a Swiss-style federation would reunify the island. This is not the way it looked to most Greek Cypriots. To them it appeared that the United Nations, and the European Union, were bent on legitimizing at least the consequences of the Turkish invasion of 1974. The European Union was interested in taking the Cyprus issue off the table in order to facilitate the beginning of negotiations on Turkey’s European Union accession. *

However, Turkey’s ambition to become a member of the European Union is not welcomed by the majority of Europeans. According to recent polls in France and Germany, Turkey is perceived as a mostly Asian and Muslim country that has no relation to European “values” and “norms.” The political elites of both countries are also deeply concerned with these prospects.** In addition, the policy of Germany and France vis-à-vis the Republic of Cyprus will be determined by the wider examination of their respective national interests regarding Turkey’s relations with the European Union and their geopolitical access to Cyprus.
Thousands of Greek Cypriots take part in a demonstration to voice their rejection 'Oxi' of the UN peace plan for Cyprus.
The island’s accession to the European Union establishes an opportunity for both France and Germany to gain indirect geopolitical access to the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, which has so far essentially been denied by the United States and United Kingdom that consider controlling this staging point as their exclusive right.

In conclusion, the failure of the Annan Plan does not remove the problem from the European Agenda. In the coming months, there will probably be covert diplomatic efforts, in which the United States, given its special ties with Turkey, will also be involved, while on the ground there will be tangible economic changes on both sides of the island. As the date for discussions between the European Union and Turkey draws nearer, the issue of Cyprus’ reunification will return to the political agenda, both on the island and on the European continent.

* Shlomo Avinery, No Local Will, No Way, Jerusalem Post, April 26, 2004 p:13.
** Zaxarias Mixas, Cyprus: The Case of its “Isolation” within the EU after the Rejection of the Annan Plan, May 5, 2004 at: RIEAS web site: http://www.rieas.gr