The United Nations yesterday (1 November) called for a summit to be held in January between leaders of ethnically split Cyprus aimed at settling a decades-old conflict that has blocked Turkey's bid to join the EU. Cyprus will hold the rotating EU Presidency in the send half of 2012.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed optimism that Cyprus' President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervi? Ero?lu were on their way to resolving long-standing differences.
The UN leader, speaking in New York, indicated that leaders of both communities would hopefully reach agreement on outstanding issues in January. In case the summit ends successfully, a follow-up conference would take place with Turkey, Britain and Greece, which are the guarantor powers of Cypriot sovereignty.
"Discussions have been positive, productive and vigorous," Ban told journalists, flanked by the two leaders at the UN headquarters.
"This has given me confidence that a comprehensive settlement can be achieved. Both leaders have assured me that they believe that they can finalise a deal," he said, as quoted by Reuters.
The UN has been trying for years to reunite Cyprus. The conflict has heavily affected EU-Turkey relations (see background).
So far, only one accession chapter (science and research) has provisionally been closed. Eleven more have been opened, but eight remain blocked over Turkey's failure to implement the Ankara Protocol, which opens ports in the Northern part of Cyprus to vessels from the Republic of Cyprus.
Recently Turkey said that it would 'freeze relations' with the EU if Nicosia is given the EU presidency in 2012.
The online edition of the Famagusta Gazette reports on the proposed January summit in rather skeptical terms, saying that such a meeting would be the fifth of its kind since 2008. Previous such meetings took place in Geneva.
"It now looks unlikely that both sides will resolve the outstanding issues in the next six months, before Cyprus takes up the EU Presidency," the independent English-language newspaper reported.
Many hurdles remain
According to sources quoted by Reuters, the two sides did not agree on how to elect a Cypriot president on a rotating basis, and there was no “substantive change in positions” on issues relating to the property rights of displaced persons and territorial adjustments to facilitate a federation.
But Turkish media said the two sides were able to reach an agreement on some other issues.
The daily Milliyet reported that Ero?lu and Christofias had agreed that a new, reunified Cypriot state would use the euro, although the Turkish lira, the valid currency in the Turkish north, would remain in use for a one-year transition period.
The presidency of the central bank of the new Cypriot state would rotate between Turkish and Greek Cypriots. And the impoverished Turkish side would receive funds from the federal state for 13 years to help resolve infrastructure problems.
The Turkish and Greek sides would be equally represented in all levels of the judiciary, but the Greek side would have the majority in the lower house of the Cypriot parliament, controlling 75% of the seats. However, the Turkish side was given guarantees that any bill deemed detrimental to their interests will not pass, Milliyet reported.
Accordingly, either of the two sides will be able to veto a specific bill when half of their lawmakers oppose it.
The division of Cyprus represents one of the most difficult issues of modern times. 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 for reunification were raised in 2002 when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented a reunification plan, suggesting a two-part federation with a rotating presidency.
In an April 2004 referendum, the Greek Cypriots rejected - and the Turkish Cypriots approved - a UN-sponsored unity 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. 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 10 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, as it claims the EU has fallen short of having direct trade with the unrecognised Northern part of the island.
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