“Turkey’s chief EU negotiator Egemen Bağış said that if the EU implements the regulation, Turkey will open its ports to Greek Cypriot vessels,” she told Today’s Zaman for Monday Talk.
“The direct trade regulation, or lifting the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, is not legally impossible. Actually, there are no legal grounds for this isolation to be in place,” she added.
Adopting the direct trade regulation would also help Turkey progress with its EU membership bid because the EU would be obliged to lift its blocks on eight-plus of Turkey’s 35 EU accession negotiating chapters, blocks that are due in most part to the Cyprus problem.
‘The only way to move ahead is the direct trade regulation. Before Turkey was demanding more to open its ports, but now it boils down to this one item. That’s not something the European Union is unable to do. The direct trade regulation, or lifting the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, is not legally impossible. Actually, there are no legal grounds for this isolation to be in place’
Tiryaki, who has written extensively on the legal aspects of the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, elaborated on the issue following the April 18 presidential election in northern Cyprus, in which Derviş Eroğlu replaced Mehmet Ali Talat, who supported a bi-communal, bi-zonal solution at the negotiating table with the Greek Cyprus, and there are concerns that Eroğlu will not.
What are the implications of Sunday’s election of President Derviş Eroğlu, who seems to favor independence, for the future of talks aimed at reunifying the island?
Eroğlu is not somebody who would be a proponent of independence under the current circumstances. Maybe his first choice would be independence -- it might have even been Talat’s first choice and the first choice of many other people -- but considering the current political balances, I don’t think Eroğlu would be willing to go that direction. He is a pragmatic politician who has been involved in Turkish Cypriot politics for a very long time, and he understands the Cyprus problem much better than many others.
Why do you think he would not push for independence?
He knows that pushing for independence without Turkey would not make much sense because without having Turkish support, the Turkish Cypriots can hardly achieve recognition of their independence by other states. Turkey has recognized the KKTC [Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus], but it has never pushed for the recognition of the KKTC by other states. Needless to say, Eroğlu and his party would not be enough to move in that direction. We also have the economic aspect. He knows very well that if he does something that is not found to be viable by Turkey, it would have economic repercussions for the Turkish Cypriots. Yet, the question here is why the Turkish Cypriots voted for Eroğlu.
So why did they vote for Eroğlu?
It is not that the Turkish Cypriots voted for a radical leader or for separation or against reunification. The Turkish Cypriots voted for change. They are tired of the status quo. They are tired of the unfulfilled promises made by the European Union. And they are tired of the Greek Cypriots blocking everything vis-a-vis Turkish Cypriots or Turkey. I don’t think Talat lost the elections because he was too soft in the negotiations. He lost because he couldn’t deliver what he has been promising for more than 10 years. He promised something that he couldn’t deliver alone.
Do you think the reunification of the island is still the top choice for most Turkish Cypriots?
Deputy director at the Global Political Trends Center (GPoT) and a faculty member at İstanbul Kültür University’s international relations department, Sylvia Tiryaki worked as a Cyprus projects coordinator and a senior research fellow at the Turkish Economics and Social Studies Foundation (TESEV) Foreign Policy Program between 2003 and 2008. She completed her degrees at the Comenius University in Bratislava. She has contributed to various academic journals and newspapers. Together with Marcel Brus, Mensur Akgün, Steven Blockmans, Theo van den Hoogen and Wybe Douma, she is the author of “A Promise to Keep: Time to End the International Isolation of the Turkish Cypriots” (2008).
The GPoT has been organizing second-track diplomacy meetings called the “Heybeliada Talks” with the participation of journalists, civil society, businessmen and representatives of academia from both parts of the island, Greece and Turkey since 2008. The latest meeting, the sixth ever, took place in February 2010 and was attended by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and State Minister Egemen Bağış. This was the first time since the start of the Cyprus problem that the Greek Cypriots came together with Turkish officials in this way, and this had a positive impact on the perception of the Greek Cypriot officials and public regarding Turkey’s sincerity in the search for a solution to the Cyprus problem.
Turkish Cypriots would prefer coexistence with Greek Cypriots under the EU umbrella, but the result of this election showed that if this doesn’t happen, they are not going to be too anxious about it any longer. The EU is not a trustworthy partner for them anymore. The EU has already lost its leverage, or the carrot, over the Turkish Cypriots.
What do you expect as far as the future of the negotiations between the north and the south?
If nothing unexpected happens, negotiations will restart at the end of May. I presume that [Dimitris] Christofias will negotiate as he used to; Eroğlu’s approach will also depend on his advisers in the negotiation team. In the foreseeable future, I neither expect breakthroughs nor a breakdown in the negotiations. However, a real breakdown will happen if Turkey completely loses its EU prospects. We don’t know exactly what the Greek Cypriots will do; maybe they will not continue with the negotiations or will slip into blame games once again, which would be very unwise.
‘Greek Cypriots have a lot of reasons to negotiate with the north’
Do you think the Greek Cypriot administration still has reasons to continue to talk with the north considering that they are now members of the EU?
Sure they have. They have a reason to continue negotiations these days more than ever considering the European Court of Human Rights’ ruling of March 2010 in which it recognized the Immovable Property Commission in the KKTC as an effective domestic remedy, and the Lisbon Treaty, which gives the European Parliament co-decisive power in trade agreements. Recently, the European Commission sent a request to the European Parliament to reconsider the correct legal basis for the direct trade regulation. The direct trade regulation hasn’t been adopted so far due to the legal battle between the European Commission’s Legal Service and the European Council’s Legal Service over the correct article on which the regulation should have been based. To put it very simply, the commission suggested the article required a qualified majority in the European Council and the council suggested it required unanimous support. So in December 2009, the European Commission reopened the debate and put the direct trade regulation back on the agenda. Finally, concerning the reasons for the Greek Cypriot administration to continue with the negotiations, they should continue because there is an emerging rapprochement between Turkey and Greece. It is not only in Turkey’s best interest but also in Greece’s to solve the Cyprus problem. Hopefully, the Papandreou government is going to take more proactive steps to solve the Cyprus issue than its predecessors.
In that regard, what could change after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s May 12 visit to Athens? Is a multilateral process involving Turkey, Greece, the EU, the UN, etc., key?
Hopefully, they will agree. Greece would also benefit from such cooperation. The Cyprus problem has never been a bilateral problem between Turkish and Greek Cypriots. It has always been a multilateral problem involving more than one guarantor power. Greece, as another guarantor power, should be involved because it has a responsibility to be involved. The EU should be involved, but not as a mentor since it is not unbiased. Since the EU has adopted this problem, they have to be involved. The UN has been involved, and they have expertise and experience; they should use it. Turkey has been adopting a reconciliatory position, not only before the referenda in 2004, but since that time as well. Turkey also came up with an action plan in January 2006.
A situation similar to Kosovo in Cyprus?
The worst scenario seems to be a collapse in the talks between the north and the south triggering a separation process. How likely is it that this could happen? Can you see a situation similar to Kosovo in Cyprus?
A Kosovo-like situation in Cyprus is not likely, at least for now. Turkey has never launched a campaign for international recognition of the KKTC. That card hasn’t been used yet. Turkey has been trying to be proactive in searching for a solution, but it takes two to tango.
So you give a bi-communal, bi-zonal solution a good chance?
It’s still a very viable option if they find a solution based on equality and power sharing. It would be a great result. Turkey reiterated its position a few times and decreased its requirements from the EU for opening its ports to Greek vessels. It’s obvious what Turkey is suggesting. Of course, the current situation can deteriorate. We shouldn’t fool ourselves that everything will be fine whatever happens. Turkey can really lose its EU prospects completely, and the Turkish Cypriots are already disillusioned. This might happen to the Turkish people, too. The EU is the actor that can do something in this situation.
Would you elaborate on this action plan, which involves fulfilling the requirements of the Ankara Protocol and adopting the direct trade regulation?
The only way to move ahead is the direct trade regulation. Turkey’s chief EU negotiator Egemen Bağış said that if the EU implements the regulation, Turkey will open its ports to Greek Cypriot vessels. Before Turkey was demanding more to open its ports, but now it boils down to this one item. That’s not something the European Union is unable to do. The direct trade regulation, or lifting the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, is not legally impossible. Actually, there are no legal grounds for this isolation to be in place. In international law, there are no legal obstacles to lifting the isolation imposed on the Turkish Cypriots. [Former UN Secretary-General] Kofi Annan had recommended [in 2004 when the Greek Cypriots rejected and the Turkish Cypriots accepted a settlement blueprint drafted by Annan] that UN Security Council members could lead the cooperation of all states “to eliminate unnecessary restrictions and barriers that have the effect of isolating the Turkish Cypriots and impeding their development.” There is also no reason to presume that that would amount to recognition of the KKTC or that lifting isolation would jeopardize UN Security Council Resolutions 541(83) and 550(84) [calling for the non-recognition but not the isolation of the KKTC]. Recognition and isolation are two different concepts under international law.
How are they differentiated in international law?
The policy of non-recognition refers to the [non-] existence of diplomatic representation, [the non-] granting of state immunity in domestic law or the [non-] acceptance of acts of the authorities of the entity as official acts of a foreign state. Isolation of an entity can be in economic terms for instance, or it can mean travel restrictions or communication links restrictions. An isolationist policy can be adopted against internationally recognized entities or ones which are not internationally recognized. If the international community wants to adopt the policy of non-recognition, it does so through the Security Council [resolutions]. If they want to go further, if they want to impose, for instance, economic sanctions, they do it explicitly through another decision. In the case of the KKTC, there was no such further decision adopted. And indeed, direct trade and other forms of international cooperation continued even after the two Security Council resolutions were adopted. When it comes to the EU, when it imposes sanctions or “restrictive measures” against a certain entity, it does it openly, publicly and announces it on the official EU website. There are many EU sanctions regimes implementing UN Security Council resolutions adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and also autonomous EU regimes, but none of them are against the Turkish Cypriots. So they haven’t even officially adopted that policy, but they are doing it.
Greek Cypriots say that it is because EU member states should be loyal to each other. But even on the question of the legality of the ports in the north, the European Commission answered in writing in 2007 that there is nothing under general international law prohibiting them. Basically, it is a political decision.
‘EU member states should behave more responsibly’
Is there awareness by EU foreign policy makers about the urgent need to resolve the Cyprus issue?
They know the nuances of the isolation, they know about the direct trade regulation. They understand that this could lead to a needed breakthrough. That’s why the European Commission asked the European Parliament to consider the legal basis for the direct trade regulation. Individual member states should also realize how acute the situation is now. They should behave more responsibly, not try to hide behind their short-term domestic interests.
How would the action plan work in practice? Who would act first, the EU or Turkey?
They would act simultaneously. Nobody would have to take any first steps. There would be no need for confidence building measures or giving up on a certain issue. This offer is logical, but time will tell if it is the right choice. If Turkey opens its ports to the Greek vessels, this would disturb the equilibrium in the negotiations because this is something that would automatically come out as a result of the normalization. Yet if Turkey opens its ports and airports, it would not amount to recognition of the Greek Cypriot government -- indeed, Turkey recognizes the Republic of Cyprus; what Turkey does not recognize is the Greek Cypriot government having jurisdiction over the entire territory of the island because that’s not the de facto situation. Actually, the Greek Cypriots say the same about the direct trade regulation -- that it would amount to recognition of the KKTC. If Turkey or the EU took a unilateral step in regard to the opening of the ports and passing the direct trade regulation, it would not make much sense, but if they do it simultaneously, nobody would lose. Turkey would be able to move on with the Ankara Protocol because the EU would be obliged to lift its block on eight-plus of Turkey’s 35 EU accession negotiating chapters. So Turkey would be reassured of its EU membership prospects.
Is this likely to happen before the 2011 elections in Turkey?
It is hard to tell, but I don’t think there is a political risk to take for the government. It should be emphasized that if the direct trade regulation is passed, Turkey shall open its ports and airports and Turkey is not going to lose anything. Any firmer position on this issue wouldn’t be wise. Turkey is ready; Egemen Bağış said it openly. There is the need to get feedback from the EU.