Turkey wants island reunification ahead of Cypriot EU stint

Cyprus map.jpg

Turkey hopes terms for the reunification of Cyprus can be agreed by the end of the year so that a referendum can take place in early 2012, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu said on 9 July. Cyprus will hold the rotating presidency of the EU in the second half of 2012.

"We hope to find a solution to the Cyprus problem by the end of the year, and hold a referendum in the early months of next year so that Cyprus can take on the presidency of the EU as a new state that represents the whole island," Davuto?lu said during a visit to the Turkish Cypriot enclave in the north of the island.

Cyprus was divided by a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup. Its Greek Cypriots represent the island internationally and in the European Union, while Turkey is the only country to recognise the Turkish Cypriot state.

The Cyprus dispute is a major obstacle for Turkey's bid to join the European Union, aside from opposition from EU heavyweights France and Germany.

Greek Cypriots say Turkey cannot join the bloc until the Cyprus conflict is resolved.

The EU also expects Turkey to implement the Ankara Protocol, whereby Turkish ports and airports will be opened to traffic from Cyprus. Turkey says the EU should also end its blockade of the Turkish Cypriot enclave.

"A solution will bring real peace to the eastern Mediterranean and truly unite Europe," Davuto?lu said during the joint news conference with the president of northern Cyprus, Dervi? Ero?lu.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said after meeting Ero?lu and Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias in Geneva on Thursday that he expected the two sides to overcome their differences by October.

Peace talks have stumbled on since being relaunched in 2008. The talks are Cypriot-led, though in coming months the UN team acting as a facilitator could take a more active role.

In principle, both sides agree to reunite Cyprus as a two-zone federation, but they have been unable to reconcile differences ranging from re-drawing existing boundaries to property claims by thousands uprooted in conflict.

Ban said in Geneva that if the sides were able to reach convergence on all core issues – defined by the UN as EU issues, economy, governance, property, security and territory – it would pave the way toward convening a final, international conference.

Territorial and broader security issues involving the roles of Cyprus's guarantor powers – Britain, Greece and Turkey – have barely been touched in negotiations.

Any agreement the two sides reach must go to a plebiscite. In a referendum in 2004 Turkish Cypriots voted for reunification, but Greek Cypriots rejected it.

EURACTIV with Reuters

Yavuz Baydar, writing for Turkish daily Zaman, quotes Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu as saying that he hoped a solution to the Cyprus problem would be found by the end of the year, and that a referendum could be held in the early months of next year "so that Cyprus can take on the presidency of the EU as a new state that represents the whole island".

"Davuto?lu's remarks must be seen as a further sign that Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) continues to be a pro-solution force on the chronic conflict," Baydar argues. "There are even those who argue that the AK Party would remain pro-solution even if there would not be any EU membership perspective for Ankara," he adds.

"North Cyprus is an economic burden; its full dependency on Turkey creates frustrations here as well as among Turkish Cypriots, whose sentiments turn more and more against the Turkish power holders in general," he writes.

Baydar concludes that "the dark horse remains Greek Cyprus".

"In this sense: Christofias is weak, the Church is fiercely opposed to a solution, and society is to a large extent against unity. The public communications are lacking or, at the best, conducted in an old, venomous rhetoric," his commentary ends.

Alvaro de Soto, the UN secretary-general's former special adviser on Cyprus, is quoted by Zaman as saying that unilateral actions by either Turkey, Greek Cyprus or EU countries would be extremely helpful to solve the deadlock over the problem of a divided Cyprus.

"A very clever thing to do for the Greek Cypriots would be to lift their block over Turkey's accession. This would remove all the blame on Greek Cyprus for standing in the way of Turkey-EU negotiations. Or other Europeans who are also not in favour of negotiations with Turkey could lift their objections. Or Turkey could enable admission of the Greek Cypriots to Turkish ports and airports. Or the Greek Cyprus could remove itself from being an obstacle to the European Union, which needs to keep its promise to the Turkish Cypriots," De Soto is quoted as saying.

The division of Cyprus represents one of the most difficult issues affecting EU-Turkey relations, with the future of Turkey's accession talks hinging on the successful resolution of the problem.

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 raised 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, as it claims the EU has fallen short of having direct trade with the unrecognized Northern part of the island.

So far, only one accession chapter (science and research) has been provisionally closed. Eleven more have been opened, but eight remain blocked over Turkey's failure to implement the Ankara Protocol, which states that access should be granted and ports opened to vessels from the Republic of Cyprus.

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