The division of Cyprus into two separate Greek and Turkish communities represents one of the most difficult issues of the European Union’s sixth enlargement round, with the future of Turkey’s EU accession talks hinging on the successful resolution of the problem.
Cyprus gained independence from Britain in 1960. Three years later, inter-communal violence broke out between the Mediterranean island's Greek and Turkish communities, which eventually led to a Greek-sponsored attempt to seize power in 1974 and a military intervention by Turkey. Greek Cypriot refugees fled south as Turkey seized the island's northern third, while Turkish Cypriots headed north.
In 1983, the Turkish-held northern part of the island declared itself the 'Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus' (TRNC). The TRNC is recognised by Ankara alone.
UN-sponsored talks - held in the 1980s and 90s between then-Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides and leader of the Turkish-occupied north Rauf Denktash - collapsed without success. The north, recognised only by Turkey, slid into poverty and corruption, while tourism and offshore banking brought prosperity to the south.
Despite repeated efforts under the auspices of the UN to bring the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to the negotiating table, the island has remained divided since 1974.
Hopes were rasied in 1992 when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented a reunification plan, suggesting a two-part federation with a rotating presidency.
In April 2004, the Greek Cypriots rejected and the Turkish Cypriots approved in a referendum a UN-sponsored unity plan known as the Annan Plan. The plan's failure disappointed EU officials, who had agreed to allow Cyprus to join that year partly in the hope that doing so would encourage a solution to the Cyprus problem.
In May 2004, the Greek Cypriot-controlled 'Republic of Cyprus' became a full member of the EU.
At their December 2004 summit, EU leaders agreed to open accession talks with Turkey on 3 October 2005. One of the conditions specified was for Ankara to extend a 1963 association agreement with the EU's predecessor, the European Economic Community, to the Union's ten new member states. This group includes the Greek Cypriot state, which is not recognised by Turkey.
In July 2005, Turkey signed a protocol extending its customs union to the EU-10 states, but at the same time Ankara issued a declaration saying that its signature did not mean it had recognised the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey also refused to open its ports and airports to Cyprus.
Meanwhile, on 17 April 2005, pro-EU and pro-unification candidate Mehmet Ali Talat was elected president of the self-declared TRNC. He replaced 81-year-old Rauf Denktash in the post, becoming only the second elected president in the TRNC's history.
Following a series of debates among the EU-25 states, the Council on 3 October 2005 decided to open accession talks with Turkey. Under the negotiating framework for the country, Ankara's progress in its accession talks will be measured, among others, by its "continued support for efforts to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem within the UN framework and in line with the principles on which the Union is founded, including steps to contribute to a favourable climate for a comprehensive settlement, and progress in the normalisation of bilateral relations between Turkey and all EU member states, including the Republic of Cyprus".
On 29 November 2006, the European Commission recommended the partial suspension of talks, because Turkey had refused to implement the Ankara Protocol and open its trade to vessels from Cyprus. On 11 December 2006, EU foreign ministers agreed to follow a Commission recommendation to sanction Turkey and suspend talks on eight of 35 chapters. The eight chapters are: Free Movement of Goods, Right of Establishment and Freedom to Provide Services, Financial Services, Agriculture and Rural Development, Fisheries, Transport Policy, Customs Union and External Relations.
In a February 2008 run-off election against MEP Ioannis Kasoulides, Demetris Christofias was elected the sixth president of the Republic of Cyprus with 53.4% of the vote. The good personal relations between Christofias and Ali Talat offered new prospects for the island's reunification. The two leaders are also linked by political affinity, since they both come from left-leaning parties.
The new climate brought with it tangible improvements like the re-opening of the Ledra crossing in the heart of the capital, Nicosia, the re-opening of the famous church of Saint Mamas in Omorpho (in the North) and the cancellation of annual military exercises in the two areas.
The April 2009 legislative elections in Northern Cyprus returned a more nationalist government headed by Prime Minister Dervi? Eroglu (National Unity Party). President Ali Talat is thus in a less favourable position to proceed in the negotiation process with his southern counterpart. Presidential elections are scheduled for April 2010.
The last Commission progress report on Turkey (14 October 2009) said Ankara had not really advanced on normalising bilateral relations with the Republic of Cyprus. It highlighted how Turkey has not implemented the Additional Protocol of the Association Agreement, and has not removed all obstacles to the free movement of goods.
In its latest progress report on Turkey (14 October 2009), the European Commission highlighted how Ankara - despite its support for ongoing UN-backed negotiations to comprehensively settle the Cyprus problem – has not progressed on normalising bilateral relations with the Republic of Cyprus.
Turkey is yet to fully implement the Additional Protocol of the Association Agreement and has not removed all obstacles to the free movement of goods, including restrictions on direct transport links with Cyprus. Cypriot Foreign Minister and former EU Health Commissioner Markos Kyprianou stressed on 29 October 2009 (EurActiv 29/10/09) how Turkey's behaviour in its relations with Cyprus could negatively impact upon Ankara's EU accession bid.
The crux of the problem has been Turkey's non-compliance with obligations set out in the 2004 Ankara Protocol, which were later included in the country's negotiating framework for EU accession. "The fact is that Turkey has failed to comply with these obligations – all of them," Kyprianou remarked. Currently eight of the 35 chapters are blocked due to non-compliance with the Ankara Protocol. Kyprianou hopes to see tangible improvements by December 2009 in order to unlock the stalemate.
The Cypriot foreign minister recently said the Republic of Cyprus does not see any alternative to reunification and insisted that his government has not even contemplated any other plan. "This is the target of the negotiations: the reunification of the country into one federal system, not a confederation of two states," Kyprianou insisted, stressing that Turkish attempts to support other solutions would prove detrimental to its membership bid.
Egemen Bagi?, Turkey's chief negotiator for EU accession, paints a different picture (EurActiv 08/10/09), stressing that the core of the Ankara Protocol is conditional on the EU opening its traffic to Northern Cyprus. "Turkey made a promise to open its ports in exchange for ending the isolation for the Turkish Cypriots. We are behind our promise. If EU countries decide to have direct trade with Northern Cyprus, we will be more than happy to open our ports, and keep our part of the promise," Bagi? told EurActiv in an interview.
Bagi? believes the best way to solve the Cyprus problem is to allow the two leaders - Demetris Christofias and Ali Talat – to proceed with their talks without any interferences. He also stressed that the Cyprus issue should not be treated as an integral part of Turkey's EU accession talks. "The Cyprus talks are very important, but the Cyprus problem was not a prerequisite for the membership of Cyprus itself. Therefore it should not be a prerequisite for the membership of another country."
He nonetheless expressed hope that the Cyprus talks might reach a successful conclusion by February 2010, insisting that Turkey would sincerely endorse any new compromise.
The good relations between Turkey and Greece have recently deteriorated due to complaints by the Greek authorities about supposed violations of the Greek no-fly zone by Turkish aircraft. This cooling of relations between the two countries is affecting their cooperation within NATO and hindering the negotiation process in Cyprus.
Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn stated on 26 June 2009 that the opportunity to reunite Cyprus is unique and Turkey should fully endorse the UN-led process "in order to encourage the leaders of both communities to reach a comprehensive settlement to this decades-long conflict on European soil". He drew a parallel between the fall of the Berlin Wall and ending the divisions keeping the Cypriot communities apart.
The Independent Commission on Turkey's second report (September 2009) stressed the immediacy of the challenges facing the negotiation process, stating that "developments over the next year will likely determine whether or not the island will be indefinitely divided".
It notes how everyone is set to lose from continued partition: the EU, Turkey, NATO and most importantly Cypriots on both sides. The document cites a study by the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), which claims that with a successful federalist settlement, the Cypriot economy would record an additional 10% GDP growth within seven years.
Dutch MEP Joost Lagendijk (Greens/European Free Alliance), who chaired the European Parliament's delegation to the EU-Turkey joint parliamentary committee until July 2009, said EU member states have the ability to do "behind-the-scenes" work to make sure that there is a solution to the divided island of Cyprus as soon as possible, but warned that some of them are not willing to do this.
"Some countries like to hide behind the Cyprus problem - for example, the French government and the Austrians. The majority of the EU states who are in favour of Turkish accession should make it clear within the EU, to the French, to the Austrians and, of course, to the Cypriots, that it is in the EU's interest to have this issue solved," he said in an interview published by Turkish daily Zaman.
Enterprise and Industry Commissioner Günter Verheugen, formerly enlargement commissioner, stated that the major failure of the 2004 enlargement was the EU's inability to forge a solution to the Cyprus conflict following the failed referendum on the Greek half of the island.
"I, at least, did not expect that. I make no secret of the fact that this was one of the greatest political disappointments of my life," he said.
Verheugen neverthless expressed optimism that Cyprus could now be moving closer to a solution, with peace talks ongoing between the Greek and Turkish sides.
Hugh Pope, an analyst for the International Crisis Group, noted that rounds of elections in Cyprus have sent a worrying signal to peace talks in 2009. In the North, the National Unity Party (UBP) won the parliamentary elections, with 44% of the vote, beating the pro-settlement Republican Turkish Party (CTP) of President Talat.
The same scenario was seen in the South, where President Christofias saw the influence of nationalist hardliners in his main coalition partner, DIKO, grow after dominating elections to senior party posts in March 2009.
These electoral showings put pressure on the two leaders to record tangible and immediate achievements.
- 1974: Turkish military invades northern part of Cyprus in response to a coup sponsored by the military junta in Athens.
- 1977: Death of Archbishop Makarios, a Greek Cypriot spiritual leader, entrenches mutual antagonism between the two communities.
- 1980s and 90s: UN-sponsored talks collapse.
- 1992: UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presents a reunification plan, suggesting a two-part federation with a rotating presidency.
- April 2004: Greek Cypriots reject the plan in a referendum. Turkish Cypriots were in favour of it.
- 1 May 2004: Cyprus joins the EU in spite of the referendum setback. Legally, the entire territory of Cyprus is part of the EU, in spite of the fact that the government in Nicosia cannot control the Northern part of the island.
- Oct. 2004: European Commission presents its Recommendation on Turkey's Progress towards accession along with its paper 'Issues Arising from Turkey's Membership Perspective'.
- Dec. 2004: European Council defines conditions for opening accession negotiations with Turkey.
- Oct. 2005: European Council formally opens EU accession talks with Turkey and adopts a negotiating framework setting out the principles governing the negotiations.
- June 2006: Negotiations start.
- Dec. 2006: Turkish fails to apply Ankara Agreement referring to the opening of its ports and airports to trade from Cyprus. Council blocks Turkey's EU talks as a result.
- Feb. 2008: Election of Demetris Christofias as president of Cyprus. His good personal relationship with Turkish community leader Mehmet Ali Talat brings encouraging prospects for the reunification of the island.
- 21 March 2008: Christofias and Talat first meet, under UN supervision, to resume reunification talks. The negotiations between the two presidents are ongoing under the watch of Alexander Downer, the UN's special advisor on Cyprus and a former Australian foreign minister.
- April 2008: Re-opening of the Ledra crossing in the heart of the capital Nicosia illustrates new climate of trust (EurActiv 04/04/08).
- 14 Oct. 2009: European Commission publishes its latest Progress Report on Turkey.
- Council:Presidency Conclusions(15 December 2006) [FR]
- Council:Green Line Regulation(29 April 2004) [FR] [FR] [DE]
- Council:Accession Partnership(18 February 2008)
- Commission:Annual Report on the implementation of Council Regulation 866/2004(20 September 2009)
- DG Enlargement:Speech by Commissioner Olli Rehn(26 June 2009)
- DG Enlargement:Turkey Progress Report(14 October 2009)
- United Nations:The Annan Plan for Cyprus – full text
- United Nations:Annan report on Cyprus
- UN Chronicle:Cyprus post-referendum
- United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP)
- Republic of Cyprus government:
- Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC):
- Embassy of the US, Nicosia, Cyprus:The Cyprus Problem and U.S. Support for the U.S. Initiative: An Opportunity Lost(Jun 2004)
NGOs and Think-Tanks
- Centre for European Reform (CER):Cyprus, Turkey and the EU: Time for a sense of proportion and compromise(July 2006)
- Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO):Special section on Cyprus
- Independent Commission on Turkey:Second Report(September 2009)
- International Crisis Group:Can Cyprus buck the partitionist trend?(24 July 2009)
- Centre for European policy Studies (CEPS):Small steps will make a big difference(7 November 2008)
- Centre for European policy Studies (CEPS):Cyprus revisited(22 September 2009)
- Centre for European Reforms (CER):Cyprus – the costs of failure(September 2009)
- Blogactiv:Reflecting on Cyprus