Outcomes of the Laeken Summit

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The Cyprus impasse: a new opening

On 4th December Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf
Denktas met his Greek Cypriot counterpart Glafcos Clerides in the
UN buffer zone of Nicosia. Two days later the leaders met again in
Northern Cyprus. These was the first direct contact between the two
leaders since the failure of the August 1997 talks in Glion,
Switzerland. Denktas’ new opening in early November was followed by
a letter to the UN Secretary General on 12 November, in which the
Turkish Cypriot principles of an agreement were outlined. These
principles were presented to Clerides during their first meeting.
What explains this unexpected Turkish Cypriot opening and what
could its implications be for the future of both Cyprus and Turkey
in the European Union?

What seems clear is that both in Turkey and in
Northern Cyprus there is a growing realization that the accession
of Cyprus to the EU in the near future is inevitable. Whether or
not the two communities agree upon a settlement, the Republic of
Cyprus, together with the other first wave candidates, is set to
enter the Union by 2004. The current European Commission has made
it its mission to realise the EU’s enlargement to the east before
the end of its term in 2004. Out of 12 current negotiating
candidates (Turkey has been recognised as an EU candidate in
December 1999, but has not yet started accession negotiations with
the Union), Cyprus together with Hungary is at the top of the class
and is expected to conclude its accession negotiations by the end
of 2002.

Moreover, even if some member states may still
have deep reservations concerning the accession of Cyprus as a
divided island, the Greek Parliament (as well as the European
Parliament) has made it clear that it would not ratify enlargement
unless Cyprus was included in the first wave. Given the historic
importance of this fifth enlargement, the EU is therefore
effectively left with no choice but to accept the membership of
Cyprus even without a settlement. It would have to do so despite
the repercussions this may have on Turkey-EU relations,
repercussions which may go as far as to totally derail Turkey’s own
path to the Union.

It is within this context that the current
Turkish Cypriot opening should be interpreted. But what are the
underlying motives behind it? There seem to be two likely and not
exclusive explanations. The first is tactical: the Turkish Cypriot
government, well aware of the enlargement timetable, may believe
that a re-launching of the talks would put a spanner in the works
of the Greek Cypriot EU membership drive, delaying the process.

The second, more benevolent motive (which is
supported by the actual outcome of the meeting and the ensuing
Turkish Cypriot public statements) would be that the Turkish
Cypriot leadership and Turkey, having appreciated the current
trends, are sincerely pushing for a just and lasting settlement.
One could read Denktas’ 12 November letter and opening statement on
4 December in this spirit. The new Turkish Cypriot proposals do not
focus upon rigid titles of statehood, but rather use more
accommodating language focussing on the substance of a deal and
proposing two politically equal Cypriot entities jointly (as a
single member state) entering the EU in the near future. The
Turkish Cypriot government may have felt that returning to the
formal UN proximity talks which they left after the November 2000
round would have been politically difficult. The new opening for
direct talks (with the presence of UN Special Advisor Alvaro de
Soto) may be viewed as a proposed fast track to a final
agreement.

The truth probably lies between these two
extremes. A mix of tactics and real desire for a settlement may be
pushing Denktas and Ankara to re-launch the process. The precise
mix is closely linked to elites’ attitudes in both Lefkosa and
Ankara towards Europe. If Cyprus were to enter the Union without a
political settlement, the likelihood of future inclusion of both
Northern Cyprus and Turkey in the EU would be reduced significantly
if not eliminated. Those elites who truly see their peoples’ future
in Europe are bound to seriously push for an early settlement on
the island. Those who do not are more likely to act for purely
tactical reasons.

Today it is difficult to ascertain which trend
prevails within decision-makers’ circles in Northern Cyprus and
Ankara. But at this point in time this may not be of vital
importance. What is important is that the process of talks is
re-launched. If the process gains momentum, both Cypriot
leaderships will probably be under unprecedented international
pressure to compromise and settle.

This holds not only for the Turkish Cypriot
side, but perhaps even more so for the Greek Cypriot one, which may
well have to make the hardest compromises on the substance. Since
the Turkish Cypriot decision to leave the proximity talks over one
year ago, the Greek Cypriot leadership has been under no
international pressure to compromise. But with the re-start of
talks, the EU in particular may be able to exercise pressure if
Clerides were unable to secure the necessary support across the
Greek Cypriot political spectrum for necessary compromises. The EU
Helsinki summit stated that although a settlement was not a
precondition for Cyprus’ EU accession, in taking the final decision
on membership, the Union would take into account ‘all relevant
factors’. In other words the Greek Cypriots must have demonstrated
that they have done everything in their power to bring about a
settlement. As and when the negotiations between the two Cypriot
communities are re-launched, the Union would be able to put the
necessary pressure on the Greek Cypriot leadership if its position
appeared uncompromising. Given the value attached by the Greek
Cypriot people to their EU accession, this could trigger a virtuous
circle of mutual concessions between the two sides culminating in a
long awaited settlement.

Time is indeed running short with Cyprus
expected to sign an accession Treaty with the Union by 2003,
leaving the rest of that year for the ratification process in EU
member state parliaments. But the details of a settlement have been
worked and re-worked by the two Cypriot parties and the UN for
decades. Provided there was enough political will on both sides,
there is little doubt that a mutually beneficial solution could be
rapidly reached. This would allow the EU to negotiate informally an
additional protocol with the Turkish Cypriot authorities in the
next year and a half, so that a loosely united Cyprus ‘common
state’ composed of its Greek and Turkish Cypriot ‘constituent
states’ could enter the Union by 2004. One of the most serious
obstacles to Turkey’s own EU membership drive would have thus been
removed.

By .

For more analyses see the

CEPS website.  

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