EU and Cyprus: Still a problem

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

In recent months, many project Cyprus' upcoming EU presidency as a deadline (and catalyst) for the resolution of the Cyprus problem, the dispute between Greek-Cypriots and Turkish-Cypriots over the fate of their island. But in reality, this is nothing but empty rhetoric and the EU remains powerless in resolving the dispute, writes George Kyris.

George Kyris teaches European politics at Warwick and Manchester universities. The following was sent exclusively to EURACTIV.

"The EU’s failure to facilitate the resolution of the Cyprus problem is long-standing. When Cyprus (as represented by the Greek-Cypriot controlled Republic of Cyprus) applied for EU membership in 1998, accession was conditioned on the reunification of Greek-Cypriots with Turkish-Cypriots (in the northern part of the island and under the secessionist self-declared state of Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus), under a unitary state. However, soon, this conditionality was abandoned, paving the way for the EU accession of Greek-Cypriots and their internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus.

On the other side of the 'Green Line', the inclusion of Turkish-Cypriots continued to rely on the reunification of the island under a common state, which would replace the Greek-Cypriot controlled Republic in the accession process. As a result, although the 'carrot' of EU integration led to Turkish-Cypriot approval of reunification, based on the UN-proposed 'Annan Plan', Greek-Cypriots remained with little incentives to contribute to solution and they finally rejected reunification before accession.

Since then, although the entire island is thought to have entered the EU in 2004, it is only the Greek-Cypriot Republic that is represented at the EU level and enjoys full EU access and benefits. EU law is not applied in northern Cyprus, Turkish-Cypriots do not formally participate in the EU member state and their (bilateral) engagement with the EU, although greater than before, remains limited.

In this context, Cyprus’ forthcoming presidency is bound to be monopolised by the Greek-Cypriots, in the same way that EU integration process has taken place so far. In practise, the absence of solution to the Cyprus problem will not implicate Cyprus’ EU affairs: the Greek-Cypriot controlled Republic of Cyprus will proceed with holding the EU presidency, in the same way that they have enjoyed representation and access to EU bodies and structures so far. Turkish-Cypriots will most probably not participate in the EU Presidency team and will continue to have incomplete relations to the EU.

As time goes by, this complex reality that the EU accession of a divided island created is gradually normalised. Of course, this is a situation that carries various challenges, including high political cost for Brussels' relations to Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriots and technical difficulties in the EU’s endeavour in Cyprus, especially the northern part of the country. Nevertheless, it is a situation that does not motivate Cypriot communities to pursue reunification: Greek-Cypriots are shield behind EU membership, while  the pro-EU trend that once prevailed among Turkish-Cypriots is gradually diminishing. In this regard, eight years after accession, the EU’s aptitude for resolution of the Cyprus conflict is further weakened. 

Earlier in the year, Alexander Downer, the UN Envoy to Cyprus, argued that ‘It’s hard to see how it [the process of negotiations on the dispute] can go on then … so we really have to get it done before July 1 [date when Cyprus will undertake Presidency]'. However, the statement represents nothing but empty rhetoric, desperate to revive a  staggering negotiation process on the solution of the inter-communal dispute. The somehow uncomfortable reality is that, for EU, Cyprus still remains a problem."

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