The Economist on Cyprus
The prospects of Cyprus’s reunification and of Turkey joining the European Union both took a blow this week. The cause was the election of Dervish Eroglu as president of Turkish-controlled north Cyprus on April 18th. Mr Eroglu, a nationalist hardliner who opposes the framework of the Cyprus settlement talks, took 50.4% of the vote. The incumbent, Mehmet Ali Talat, trailed with 42.8%.
Mr Eroglu says he will continue the UN-sponsored negotiations with Demetris Christofias, the Greek-Cypriot president. But unlike Mr Talat, who accepted the goal of a “bizonal, bicommunal federation”, Mr Eroglu talks of a confederation of independent states, which the Greek-Cypriots will not accept. Rumours fly that he may appoint a veteran Turkish-Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash, as his negotiator. Mr Denktash, who has long dreamed of formal partition, fought hard for Mr Eroglu’s victory.
Cyprus has been divided since July 1974, when Turkey invaded after a Greek-backed coup that led to an abortive attempt at enosis (union with Greece). Since 1983 the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus has run the north. It is recognised only by Turkey and relies on the protection of the Turkish army and on fat annual subsidies from Ankara.
Turkey cannot seriously hope to join the EU without a Cyprus deal. The (Greek-Cypriot) Republic, an EU member since 2004, has a veto. Eight of Turkey’s 35 negotiating chapters have been frozen since 2006 because of the government’s refusal to open its ports and airports to the Greek-Cypriots. Turkey will not give way until the EU honours its 2004 promise to end the isolation of northern Cyprus as a reward to Turkish-Cypriot voters for backing the UN’s Annan plan for reunification in April 2004 (Greek-Cypriots voted against it).
It was only a week after the Annan plan failed that Cyprus joined the EU as a divided island. The Greek-Cypriot government has since used its membership to veto any easing of restrictions on the north. The EU violated its own principles by rewarding the Greek-Cypriots with membership, Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president, complained recently. Thousands of settlers from mainland Turkey, many of whom would have to go home under a Cyprus settlement, voted for Mr Eroglu, whereas most Turkish-Cypriots favoured Mr Talat.
Turkey continues to push for a solution in Cyprus. “Ultimately, it is Ankara not Eroglu who calls the shots,” says Basaran Duzgun, a Turkish-Cypriot commentator. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, backed Mr Talat in the election. But his efforts were not enough to overcome voters’ disappointment with Mr Talat’s failure to secure a deal. Yet Mr Erdogan still wants a solution by the end of 2010. Turkey’s generals, usually keen on a presence on the island, have been silent.
Mr Eroglu’s hope is to maintain the status quo with the ultimate goal of independence, says Cengiz Aktar, a Turkish commentator. That would doom Turkey’s hopes of EU membership. Yet it is apparently backed by Turkey’s opposition parties. With a parliamentary election due in Turkey next year, the government is unlikely to risk nationalist ire by deserting Mr Eroglu. But Mr Erdogan may call for Greek intervention in Cyprus when he visits Athens on May 12th. He may float the idea of an international conference to bring to the table both Cypriot sides, the UN, Greece and Turkey. But a dispute between Turkey and Greece over the Aegean Sea will make this harder. Dogfights have broken out between Turkish and Greek pilots.
Anyway, some powerful European interests are in no hurry to see a deal. France and Germany, who insist that Turkey should have a privileged partnership but not full EU membership, are only too happy to hide behind Cyprus’s objections.
Source: The Economist