Cyprus lies on an axis of movement, both north-south and east-west. It stands at the crossroads of three continents, Europe, Asia and Africa. It is, therefore hardly surprising that throughout history the major powers in the region have taken an interest in controlling and settling the island. Its strategic position has always ensured that Cyprus has played a key role in history, but it has also resulted in the island becoming a victim of others’ power politics.

Recently, Erdogan Turkish Prime Minister has warned that Turkey’s relations with the EU will be completely frozen if the Republic of Cyprus assumes the EU’s presidency before a deal reunifying the island is reached. Turkey has also threatened Cyprus against going ahead with plans to begin drilling for offshore gas deposits off its southern Mediterranean coast. The U.S. and Russia support Cyprus position.

All of this is happening while the two sides (Greek and Turkish Cypriots) have another 19 rounds of negotiation to go. So far they have produced limited progress as several core issues remain open, including territorial adjustments and what to do with private property lost during the war. The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he expects both sides to reach agreement by October on all core issues. Failure to reach an agreement runs a serious risk of producing permanent and potentially more hostile partition of Cyprus creating a Bosnia-type situation. This would benefit neither Greek nor Turkish Cypriots.  There is a limit on both sides to how many times the problem can be negotiated and the United Nations is wary of investing more time and resources and is under pressure for peace-keeping missions elsewhere in the world.

The failure to reunite the country could put an end to the relatively tranquil status quo and lead to what is locally referred to as ‘Taiwanisation” with growing international toleration of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TNRC), loss of significant land that would have been returned by the north in any settlement, permanent stationing of Turkish troops, acceleration of a Turkish Cypriot building boom on Greek-owned properties, and the arrival on the island of more Turkish settlers. In this situation, Turkish Cypriots would face an indefinite suspension of their rights as EU citizens on the island and the territory would be integrated more into Turkey, at a high fiscal cost, among other negative consequences to the Turkish Treasury. The Turkish Republic of North Cyprus will become more and more dependent on Turkey’s support to be recognized worldwide and develop economically. Under this scenario, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for Turkey’s bid to be a full EU member to prosper and this would turn Turkey inward and away from the West.

For the EU, the unresolved Cyprus problem prevents full cooperation with NATO. Using its leverage within NATO, Turkey prevents high level formal meetings between NATO and the EU’s Political and Security Committee on the grounds that Cyprus does not have a security clearance from NATO. Just as Cyprus has the upper hand in the EU, Turkey has the upper hand in NATO, where Cyprus is neither a member of the alliance nor of NATO’s Partnership for Peace, a programme of bilateral and security cooperation between individual countries and NATO. As a result NATO and the EU cannot even talk to each other. This is Turkey’s way of reminding the EU that Europe needs to solve the Cyprus problem if it wants to cooperate with NATO and have access to its facilities and capacity.

It is unfortunate that the Cyprus problem is projected as primarily a Euro-Turkish issue, as well as an issue between the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Republic of Cyprus instead of being projected as an issue between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Indeed, if freed by external players , both communities could probably work out this by themselves much better.

Today the EU is in a deep crisis and focused on solving its own problems. The Greek economy has collapsed. The crisis may also affect Turkey. So there is nothing to lose from the side of Turkey, because everything that could be lost has already been lost. But for the EU there are things at stake. Political dialogue is part of the solution in many problems in the Eastern Mediterranean region. As the EU grapples with what to do with the nascent democracies of North Africa, and soon, perhaps, in the Middle East, it needs to acknowledge the limits of its soft power. Building up a credible diplomacy and realistic policies on conflicts around the neighbourhood takes time and money. In the meantime, if the EU continues foolishly to rely on the EU’s magnetism to do the job, it will neither help to resolve conflicts nor to burnish its reputation



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