CYPRUS AND THE EUROPEAN UNION:
THE RELEVANT FACTORS (*)
There are no examples of the reconstitution of multiethnic societies, after these have broken up into separate ethnic components.
Negotiations are continuing between the European Union and the government of the Republic of Cyprus – a government which is composed exclusively of Greek Cypriots and which rules the southern two-thirds of the island inhabited by Greeks. According to a statement made on 19 March by Günther Verheugen, EU Commissioner for Enlargement, the negotiations are one third complete. At its meeting in Helsinki on 10-11 December 1999, the Council of Ministers of the European Union declared that “the Union should be in a position to welcome new member states from the end of 2002…” The (Greek-controlled) Republic of Cyprus is one of these states, since the EU promised in 1995 “to incorporate Cyprus in the next stage of its development”. In the Helsinki declaration the Council of Ministers underlined that “a political settlement will facilitate the accession of Cyprus to the European Union.” But, it added: “If no settlement has been reached by the completion of the accession negotiations, the Council’s decision on accession will be made without the above being a precondition. In this, the Council will take account of all relevant factors.” What are these factors at the present time?
The most important relevant factor is, surely, the de facto situation on the Island. Contact between the Greek and Turkish communities was severed in December 1963. As a result, for the past 36 years Greeks and Turks on the island have lived separate lives. They do not learn each other’s language in school; they do not fraternize; they do not cooperate either in the public or the private sector. Moreover, since 1974, the communities have regrouped in two ethnically homogeneous areas, where they have ruled themselves in a stable and democratic manner. There are de facto two separate states in Cyprus.
The second relevant factor is that there are no examples of the reconstitution of multiethnic societies, after these have broken up into separate ethnic components. True, the international community is currently trying hard to reconstruct multiethnic societies in Bosnia and Kosovo. But results have been meagre.
In Bosnia-Herzegovina, the European Union has set itself a limited aim: to form a weak central government and allow the federated states a maximum of self-rule. But even within one of these federated states, which, to complicate matters, is itself a federation of Catholic Croats and Muslim Bosnians, the EU has not been able to reunify the city of Mostar. There is some progress, but it is both limited and slow. It is proving impossible to revive the past pattern of ethnic settlement.
In Kosovo, the situation is worse. Not only have the international authorities on the ground been unable to re-establish former settlement patterns, but the geographical separation of the two main ethnic communities is becoming ever more pronounced.
So much for the two attempts to reverse the flow of history – a flow that in the last two centuries has moved steadily in the direction of homogeneous nation states.
Elsewhere the realities produced by conflict have been accepted: Germans are not returning to Czech Sudetenland or to western Poland, Muslim and Hindu refugees are not moving back across the partition line in the Indian sub-continent; Palestinian refugees are not returning to what has become Israel.
Accepting the reality of the break-up of multiethnic societies does not, of course, mean that one should do nothing in the face of ethnic cleansing. One should prevent it or stop it when it is still possible, precisely because its nature is irreversible.
The third relevant factor is that a federation – the system of government, which the international community has in mind for Cyprus – requires the support of the inhabitants of its constituent parts. Where this is lacking, the federation breaks up. This has happened in the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia and elsewhere. As President Denktaş has said “a federation is the end of the road – not the beginning”. In other words, communities, which are to come together in a federation, must first of all develop the will to federate. The UN formula that any solution of the Cyprus problem must be viable and acceptable to both sides takes cognizance of this fact. The Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou has said that he did not want a successful divorce in Cyprus, but a happy marriage. A marriage cannot be valid, let alone happy, without mutual consent. At present this consent in lacking in Cyprus: the Greeks, who violated the 1960 Cyprus constitution in order to gain full control of a unitary state, have accepted a federal solution, at least for the time being. The Turks want a confederation of two sovereign states in Cyprus.
This leads us to the fourth relevant factor, viz. that a confederation of two initially sovereign Cyprus states does not preclude an eventual closer union. If a confederation functions well, it could lead to a federation.
The fifth relevant factor is that the absence of bloodshed in Cyprus, achieved since 1974, is a boon to be treasured. There has been no bloodshed because the Island’s inhabitants are secure in their lives, homes and property, and because men of violence have been kept apart. To put it crudely, there has been no inter-communal violence because there has been no inter-communal contact. Any settlement, which jeopardizes this security, born of separation, is likely to lead to a renewal of violence.
More specifically, any attempt to reunite Cyprus without a preliminary agreement on the borders of the two national areas, on reciprocal property claims and on the criteria of citizenship would be a recipe for conflict.
The sixth relevant factor is that there is no Cyprus nation, as anyone who has been to the island knows full well. What is called a “Cyprus identity” is nothing more than the fading memory of eighty years of British rule. Otherwise, there is no Cyprus nation any more than there is a Cretan nation in Greece or a Cilician nation in Turkey. There are Greeks and there are Turks, and their two motherlands, Greece and Turkey: two peoples with different languages, cultures and aspirations.
Today Greece is a member of the EU. Turkey has only recently been designated a candidate for membership, with no date set for the beginning of membership negotiations. If Cyprus preceded Turkey in membership of the EU (an outcome which the current timetable presupposes), the two motherlands would have unequal access to the island, and equality between the two communities would be impossible. To give one example, if Cyprus became a member of the EU at a time when Turkey would still not be a member, any Greek from the mainland would have the right to go to Cyprus, buy property, settle and start a business there. Turks from the mainland would not enjoy any of these rights, unless there were special provisions, which, however, would be difficult to reconcile with basic EU rules.
This would upset the balance between the two communities established by the 1960 agreements under which an independent Cyprus Republic was set up. According to Article 1 of the Treaty of Guarantee, the Republic of Cyprus undertook not to participate, in whole or in part, in any political or economic union with any state whatsoever. Article 50 of the Cyprus Constitution gave the Turkish Vice-President the right to veto the membership of Cyprus in any international organization, unless both Greece and Turkey were members. EU lawyers have expended a great deal of ingenuity in arguing that these legal provisions do not invalidate the application for full membership of the EU made by the Cyprus government without the approval of the elected leadership of the Turkish community. But no amount of ingenuity could disguise the fact that the consequences of Cypriot membership at a time when Turkey is not a member of the EU would run counter to the spirit of the 1960 agreements.
Most inhabitants of Cyprus, whether Greek or Turkish, would like to become citizens of the EU. But Turkish Cypriots desire also security and equality. They can achieve both within the EU only if Turkey became a full member.
By designating Turkey as a candidate, the EU has implicitly declared its belief that Greece and Turkey can establish the kind of relationship, which two member states must entertain with each other. A dialogue has begun between the two countries, and, at the time of writing, some peripheral agreements have been reached. It is to be hoped that the two countries will also reach an agreement on Cyprus which would be acceptable to the two communities on the island, or, more properly, that the two communities will be able to agree among themselves and that their two motherlands would thus see their conflict over Cyprus resolved. Until this happens, the best course is for Greece and Turkey to put the problem of Cyprus to one side, and pursue agreement in other areas.
In practice, this is what is happening at the present time. Several years ago, Greece and Turkey had agreed on a similar approach at a meeting in Davos. But “the spirit of Davos” soon evaporated, as the Greek government, for domestic political reasons, tried to link progress on Cyprus with progress in other areas. Now, too, in spite of the realistic understanding that the Cyprus problem should not figure in the present phase of bilateral negotiations, there is always the danger that continued disagreement in Cyprus may involve the two motherlands.
Similarly, the problem of Cyprus does not figure directly in the current negotiations between the EU and Turkey. These negotiations concern the text of the Partnership Accession document, which will chart the way for Turkey’s convergence with the EU. Cyprus will be taken up in the next stage – the political dialogue that will follow agreement on Partnership Accession. But, as we have already seen, the EU is concurrently negotiating with the Republic of Cyprus on the subject of the island’s accession as a full member. Inevitably, negotiations with the Greek Cypriots will have a bearing on negotiations with Turkey. The effect could well be damaging.
There must be consistency in the aims, which the EU sets itself. This, surely, is the most relevant factor, which the Council of Ministers has to bear in mind as it pursues its negotiations with the (Greek) Republic of Cyprus. Accepting Cyprus as a member state in advance of a settlement would create problems both in Greek-Turkish relations and in the new relationship between the EU and Turkey. If the EU wants Greece and Turkey to get on, if it wants to see Turkey eventually as a member, and in any case as a constructive partner, it should at least delay accepting the Greek part of Cyprus into the fold of full memhership. Otherwise, the. EU would negate its own purpose.
A Cyprus settlement needs a great deal of time. Instead of pressing for a quick settlement, the EU (and the international community) should seek preliminary agreements (on borders, property, de facto mutual recognition, etc.), until, with the passage of time, the wish for a closer association develops in both parts of Cyprus.
In his statement on 19 March, Commissioner Günther Verheugen has again appealed to Turkish Cypriots to take part in the negotiations with the EU, and has warned that there would not be a second set of negotiations. But this is putting the cart before the horse. Turkish Cypriots cannot take part in the current negotiations because this would mean, first, recognizing the validity of the application made by the Greek-controlled government of the Republic of Cyprus and its validity as the interlocutor of the EU for matters concerning the whole of Cyprus. It would mean secondly, accepting the consequences of accession, which, in the present circumstances and in the absence of a preliminary intercommunal settlement, would endanger their security and their title to their homes. Logically and practically, the slow search for a settlement on the island must precede any change in the attitude of Turkish Cypriots.
In the meantime there are steps, which can usefully be taken to reduce tension in Cyprus. One such step would be the creation of a permanent liaison committee on which the authorities of the Republic of Cyprus and the TRNC would be represented. If this were done, meetings between the two sides would not have to be arranged ad hoc by the United Nations. A UN official could, if necessary, chair a permanent liaison committee. The committee would deal with current problems and also seek to eliminate obstacles to closer contact between the two communities. There have been several meetings organized ad hoc and preceded by laborious preparations, between private citizens from the two communities – businessmen, trade unionists, politicians (usually opposition politicians), etc. The time ha now come for authorities from the two sides to come together on regular basis. A permanent liaison committee would foster habits of working together without which no federation or even confederation could function.True, the representation in the liaison committee of the sets of authorities on the island would imply mutual de facto recognition. But even the current proximity talks carry implication, for they would have been both impossible and pointless unless Presidents Clerides and Denktaş recognized each other as leaders of their respective communities. A permanent liaison committee, which would embody this existing implicit recognition, could become with time the nucleus of a confederal and, if intercommunal confidence allowed it, eventually of a federal government
The reduction of antagonism between national communities requires a great deal of time. Europe has waited for more than fifty years for Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany to begin thinking of an association, which would allow their respective citizens to own property in each other’s country. More than a century after Schleswig-Holstein dispute between Germany and Denmark, there are still restrictions, which apply to Germans wishing to settle north of border. So the idea that communities, which have fallen apart, quickly come together again is not only unwise; it is dangerous. It is a recipe for trouble. Whole generations must pass, before memories conflict – particularly if there has been bloodshed – can be forgotten, and a new spirit can arise.
There is no comparison with the reunification of Germany Germans on both sides of the border were kept apart forcibly by Soviet power. They were one nation, which reunited once the Russian army – the force that had kept them apart – had departed. In Cyprus there are clearly two nations, and the Turkish side wants the continued protection of the Turkish army. So there is no similarity between people who had been artificially kept apart and people who want to stay apart in order to be free and safe in their homes. Two conclusions follow from this premise:
First, any attempt to hurry the process would be self defeating, and any arrangements based on the false presumption that antagonism no longer existed would be built on sand.
Second, transitional arrangements are needed to keep the peace and foster habits of cooperation while antagonism gradually simmers down.
I am not content, however, with the pessimistic observation that Greeks and Turks in Cyprus cannot be reunited today. What I want to stress is that in the meantime one must reduce the danger of antagonism, and set up a mechanism to reduce tension, while recognizing facts on the ground. More generally, one must stop Cyprus from being a bomb, which could explode at any moment. The destructive potential of the Cyprus dispute is greater than its intrinsic value. It is a danger to world peace.
Some years ago a Greek Cypriot politician was quoted as saying “I do not want Cyprus to start a Third World War. But if that is the price for winning our just cause, so be it.” This is not a price, which any of us should be willing to pay. We do not want Cyprus to start a world war, or even a Greek-Turkish war. So measures are needed now to defuse the bomb. I suggest that the creation of a permanent liaison committee bringing together the representatives of Greek and Turkish authorities on the island would help defuse it.
I believe that the EU should facilitate such transitional arrangements, instead of forcing the issue by conducting accession negotiations with a government which exercises authority in one part only of the candidate country. Recently there have been some signs of realism: President Denktaş, has been received by the German Foreign Minister; the fact that the government of the Republic of Cyprus does not rule the Turks on the island has been admitted. On the other hand, as we have seen, pressure is continued to be brought on the Turks in Cyprus to enter negotiations against their will and against their interests. The sooner this approach is abandoned, the better.
This does not mean renouncing forever the aim of accepting into the Union the whole island of Cyprus, but postponing it until the population of the island reaches agreement on its future governance. For, in the last resort, the EU cannot decide what kind of Cyprus it is to accept within its ranks. Only the people of Cyprus, Greeks and Turks, defined pragmatically as the permanent residents of the island, can take this decision.
(*) Published in the fpi Quarterly “Foreign Policy”, Vol.25, Nos.3-4