The election of Derviş Eroğlu as president in northern Cyprus complicates Turkey’s EU accession negotiations, as well as the already thorny negotiations over the island republic’s reunification.
Derviş Eroğlu, who became prime minister in northern Cyprus in 2009, won 50.4 percent of the vote for president on Sunday against incumbent Mehmet Ali Talat.
Eroğlu’s National Unity Party (UBP) has historically insisted on two separate states on Cyprus. The international community, through the UN and most recently through the 2004 Annan Plan for Cyprus in particular, has sought instead an arrangement based on the federation of two autonomous zones with a central administration.
Throughout 2002, the leaders of the two Cypriot ethnic communities, Rauf Denktaş and Glafkos Klerides, engaged in intensive negotiations sponsored by the UN. At the end of that year, Brussels invited Cyprus to join the EU (an application had been made in 1997) at the beginning of May 2004. Hoping to provide an additional incentive to approve the UN agreement, the EU specified that the whole island would be the subject of membership.
Changes since 1974
In 1974, the Turkish army invaded northern Cyprus after an attempted coup by Greek military officers in the south who sought the republic’s union with Greece (enosis). This attempt to depose Archbishop Makarios III, ethnarch of the Greek Cypriots and president of the unified republic in a delicate constitutional arrangement with the Turkish community, led to the fall of the Greek colonels’ junta established in 1967 in Athens. Today, 35,000 soldiers from the Turkish mainland remain in the north, and only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
Makarios frequently said that there was no ‘Cypriot people’ but only a Cypriot population composed of ethnic Greeks and ethnic Turks. However, the Cypriot Greeks and Cypriot Turks have historically and by political culture had more in common with one another than either the Cypriot Greeks with the Hellenic Greeks or the Cypriot Turks with the Anatolian Turks. An influx of Anatolian Turks (i.e. those from the mainland) has subtly changed the character of the north. Also, according to eyewitnesses, hundreds of villas have lately been built north of Famagusta, where the area’s delicate ecology has not been respected.
The large immigration from the Anatolian peninsula to the Turkish third of the island, where they now compose well over one-third and probably over one-half of the population, has upset the historic cultural and political equilibrium not only on the island overall but also within the turcophone community itself. (Anatolian Turks, for example, now dominate the police forces in the north.) Accordingly, Eroğlu promised during his election campaign to oppose any agreement that would expel turcophone settlers of Anatolian origin from the island, and also to refuse to permit Cypriot Greeks any return of their homes in the north that they occupied before 1974.
The EU’s approach to Cyprus
The EU had thought and hoped that both halves of Cyprus should agree with the Annan plan and that a state re-established over the whole of the island would be the subject of accession. However, in subsequent presidential elections within the Greek community, Tassos Papadopoulos defeated Klerides and, one month before the planned referendum in April 2004, declared that the UN talks had failed. The Greek community thereupon rejected the UN settlement in a referendum.
Cypriot Turks in fact accepted the proposal in their own referendum; however, these simultaneous referenda occurred merely a week before the date the EU had set for Cyprus’ formal accession. Following this, there was not enough time for the EU or the UN to do anything to remedy the outcome. The accession date came and went, as a result of which the Greek part of the island, which had rejected the Annan plan, enjoys the benefits of Cyprus’ EU membership, while the Turkish part does not.
Alexander von Lingen, a former principal of the Secretariat of the Presidency of the European Parliament, and current director of the EquipEuropa analysis and training consultancy in Brussels, explains to ISN Security Watch that it was an “unfortunate coincidence that the referendum occurred so soon before the accession date, a big miscalculation” that became “a mistake to take Cyprus without taking the whole of Cyprus.”
As a result, he says, the EU now has a “bad conscience” and “tries to find all kinds of formulas to try to help,” including putting into effect a sort of assistance program for the north that is administered directly from Brussels and not through Ankara.
The connection with Turkey and the EU
Von Lingen underlines that from a strictly legal perspective, the EU views the conflict between the two ethnic communities on the island as an “inner-Cyprus [sic] problem and not a Turkish question,” much as the “accession” to the EU of the (East) German Democratic Republic was not a problem during German unification because (in the words of Jacques Delors, then president of the European Commission) this was an “inner-German [sic] question.” Just as the Federal Republic of Germany’s Fundamental Law treated East German territory as an integral part of a German state, so any past or future Cypriot constitution would do the same for the northern part of the island.
In the EU-Turkey accession negotiations, numerous chapters remain closed, despite the opening this year of two new ones, because Turkey refuses to open its seaports and airspace to carriers from Cyprus, in violation of economic agreements with the EU, of which Cyprus is now a member. And among the European publics there is a sort of ‘enlargement fatigue’ that is not sympathetic towards any further accessions in the near future.
So far as the longer run is concerned, opinion is divided.
Eroğlu has implied that, in regards to inter-communal discussions in Cyprus, everything is re-opened for discussion because the negotiations sponsored by the UN were conducted under the principle that “nothing is agreed unless everything is agreed.” Yet he declares his intention to pursue negotiations in good faith.
Initial reaction in Brussels, on the other hand, sees the election result as a negative both for hopes of Cypriot reunification and for Turkish membership in the EU. The fact that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s AKP (Justice and Development Party) government in Ankara supported the defeated Turkish Cypriot candidate Talat will not necessarily make things easier.
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First published by ISN Security Watch, 21 April 2010.