EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle's visit to the Turkish side of the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus has been seen by analysts as a public relations campaign to draw attention to concerns of Greek cypriots over Turkey's decision to break off ties with the European Council (EC) during Greek Cyprus's term in the rotating presidency.
Füle is expected to hold talks with Turkish community leaders on Tuesday, including President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) Derviş Eroğlu, KKTC PM İrsen Küçük and other politicians from opposition parties before heading to the south to meet Greek Cypriot leaders. The visit will come just days before Greek Cyprus assumes a six-month term of presidency of the EU, commencing on July 1. Some analysts perceive the visit as a political move to improve the image of the EU rather than a genuine positive contribution to rejuvenate stalled negotiations.
Speaking to Today’s Zaman on Monday, pundits claimed that the visit, set to occur over June 19-20, could only be “a political maneuver” and “a public diplomacy” in order to give the impression that the EU and UN are still engaged with the issue. Greek Cyprus has been divided since a Turkish intervention in 1974, triggered by a brief coup supported by the Greek military junta. UN-sponsored peace talks between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots have faltered since they were re-launched in 2008.
Analysts expect that Greek Cyprus’s six-month term in the rotating presidency of the EU will block the UN-led negotiation process between the two ethnically divided sides of the island, considering Greek Cyprus has also utilized its EU membership to its advantage to maintain the status quo in Cyprus. Greek Cyprus’s presidency has been a core reason for Turkey’s frozen ties with the EU.
Under the Ankara Protocol, the EU insists that Turkey is obliged to open its ports and airports to traffic from Greek Cyprus. As an additional protocol to the Ankara Agreement of 1963, it also foreshadows the extension of the EU-Turkey customs union, an agreement with 10 nations that joined the EU in 2004, including the Greek Cypriot administration. The EU has blocked negotiations on a total of eight policy chapters due to this rift. The Turkish government, however, insists on the lifting of barriers for Turkish Cypriots in trade and transportation in exchange for opening its own port to Greek Cyprus.
Associate Professor Mehmet Hasgüler, who teaches international relations at Çanakkale’s 18 Mart University, maintains that the EU has for a long time failed to be a credible negotiator in the Cyprus dispute, due to unfulfilled promises on the issue. Although the EU has committed itself to ending the isolation of the KKTC and providing the country with an opportunity of direct trade with EU countries and also financial aid, after the KKTC voted in favor of a UN plan to reunify the island on April 26, 2004, the EU failed to make this happen. Conversely, Greek Cyprus was admitted into the EU on May 1, 2004, as the sole representative of the entire island, after it overwhelmingly rejected the UN plan, and it has so far blocked all efforts by EU members to trade directly with the KKTC.
Hasgüler further claims there is no intention on the EU side to speed up the negotiations. “The EU, which is experiencing an internal crisis, does not want to confront any crisis that would result from Greek Cyprus,” he stated, touching on statements and decisions of President of Greek Cyprus Demetris Christofias inclined to cause further deterioration of relations with Northern Cyprus and Turkey. According to information from UN officials, relayed by Hasgüler, Christofias has recently stated that Greek Cyprus would close border gates temporarily in order to draw attention to the Turkish military presence on the island, which it deems “foreign occupation.”
Another expert, Mustafa Kutlay, research fellow at Ankara’s International Strategic Research Organization (USAK), commented that for the upcoming six-month presidential term of Greek Cyprus, the Cyprus issue, as well as Turkey-EU relations, would be in “a deep freeze,” expressing reservations about the possibility of any further positive developments. “During its term of presidency, Greek Cyprus will have a lot of opportunity to take the Cyprus issue off the agenda,” Kutlay stated, adding that only the 2013 presidential elections and an anticipated loss of popular support for Christofias could change the status quo.
A loose federated structure or two independent states are possible outcomes that have been raised for the future of Greek Cyprus following February’s presidential elections. Meanwhile, President of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus Derviş Eroğlu on Monday accused Christofias of being unwilling to resolve the situation. Visiting Lefkosha after wrapping up some diplomatic talks in London, Eroğlu deemed Christofias lacking a perspective that would facilitate a permanent solution in Cyprus.
Sylvia Tiryaki, international law expert and deputy director of the Global Political Trends Center (GPoT), also foresees a peaceful but stagnant six-month period on the dispute, suggesting that, “We [Turkey and North Cyprus] should stick to the economic and political progress thus far.”
KKTC’s close cooperation with Turkey at an economic level has helped Turkish Cypriots escape the economic and diplomatic isolation currently imposed on them. The Turkish government continues to financially assist the northern half of the island. Turkish Minister of Finance Mehmet Şimşek recently announced that the Turkish government provided financial assistance in the amount of TL 5.2 billion (approximately $2.9 billion) to the KKTC from its treasury budget between the years 2004 and 2011.
Turkey began exploratory drilling for oil and gas in the KKTC in April, escalating a dispute over who is entitled to the Mediterranean island’s potential fuel riches. The move counters an offshore gas search by Greek Cypriots in the internationally recognized southern nation, which drew protests from Ankara and Turkish Cyprus.