The Cyprus Problem: Conflict on Europe’s Periphery and Cause for Concern

cyprus_EU_flagThe European Union has long been known as an organization focused on peace and prosperity, but while that is often been the case, there is one example in which the European Union’s goals have failed: that of resolving the Cypriot Conflict through accession.  While initially hopeful as accession came to pass, the worst fears of many were realized when following the failure of the Annan Plan referenda in the South, Cyprus was allowed into the Union divided.  Thus in practice only extending accession to the Southern (Greek) Republic of Cyprus and allowing only they to reap the benefits of European Union membership.  By allowing in only part of the divided island, the European Union has lost its leverage towards reunification and harmed its future relations with Turkey and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Cyprus’ unique situation has instead meant that, by allowing in Cyprus before a unification agreement had been reached, the Republic of Cyprus have also been able to use the European Union’s voting processes to veto or forestall any EU-led attempts at alleviating the economic or political situation in the Turkish half of the island, unofficially known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

In 2006 the European Union through the European Council allocated €259 million for a five-year aid program to the North that was to be implemented by the Commission. This program would, the European Union claimed “promote social and economic development in the Turkish Cypriot community… develop and refurbish infrastructure foster reconciliation… build confidence and support civil society…  bring the Turkish Cypriot community closer to the European Union, through information and contacts between Turkish Cypriots and other European Union citizens… [and] help the Turkish Cypriot community prepare for the implementation of EU law once a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue is agreed.”

When the European Commission attempted to implement an aid package to Northern Cyprus, the Republic of Cyprus blocked any motions or resolutions, believing that while aid should be allowed to the North, any trade with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus must go through southern ports only.  Additionally, the European Commission found itself “unable to set up a delegation in the Turkish-controlled half.” Instead, it had to establish a headquarters-based task force in the south with a local programme support office in the northern part of Cyprus. In response the Republic of Turkey blocked the use of its ports by any Greek Cypriot flagged vessels, sparking a minor crisis that impeded Turkey’s own accession talks.

Furthermore, the Republic of Cyprus has purposefully harmed the accession talks of Turkey, who in turn denies recognition of the Republic and has done their best to block any agreements between Cyprus and NATO.  This would come to a head in 2012 when Turkey boycotted negotiations with the European Union during the Cypriot presidency.

Without formal recognition or proper representation in the Republic, the lack of protection for the minority Turkish Cypriot population on the island – despite their inclusion in population figures for EU Parliamentary seat allocation – has created a lack of oversight for their representation and their human rights.    This would mean that the Cypriot accession goes against the firmly established Copenhagen Criteria which ruled that acceding states have the “institutions to preserve democratic governance and human rights, have a functioning market economy, and accept the obligations and intent of the EU.”  By actually giving the Republic Cyprus the proverbial “carrot” that had been dangled in front of it for so long during the push for reunification pre-accession, the European Union has created a situation that at best could be considered a quagmire and at worst a powder keg.

While the reality of the situation is muddled, blame can be placed on numerous sides, from the Cypriot state actors involved, to other involved state actors with vested interests such as Turkey and Greece. Unfortunately, as the entity to have offered the Republic of Cyprus accession, that the European Union proceeded to do so in spite of their failed efforts along with the failed reunification talks and referenda, their role in solving the Cypriot conflict must currently be seen as a failed one.

The most surprising development of all may be that the newest hope for reunification is the discovery of vast deposits of natural gas in the ocean South of Cyprus.  These gas deposits, coupled with the current crisis in Ukraine, have led American and European Union officials to promote reunification for economic development, but more presumably as a means for regional energy security.  Perhaps the day Cyprus reunifies is the day Euros come out of the sea rather than their bank accounts.

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