Turkey – a hostage to Cyprus
After the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974, British Foreign Secretary James Callaghan warned: “Today the Republic of Cyprus is the prisoner of the Turkish army. Tomorrow the Turkish army will find itself the prisoner of the Republic of Cyprus.”
A fornight ago the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in its report on UK-Turkey relations agreed. “Turkey’s EU accession process is stuck, effectively hostage to the Cyprus dispute.”
In 1921 the Anglo-Irish Treaty provided for the partition of Ireland into what is now
the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. With the
reunification of Germany in 1990 the partition of Cyprus remains as Europe’s longest standing dispute and, as the Foreign Affairs Committee pointed out, has effectively
derailed Turkey’s accession process.
Turkey’s refusal to honour its commitment in 2005 to extend the customs union to the
Republic of Cyprus led to a decision by the European Council the following year to
block the opening of eight out of 35 chapters of the acquis. In addition, Cyprus has blocked a further six and France five (including one already blocked by the Council). This stalemate can only be resolved by a settlement of the Cyprus question.
Although a EU member state, Cyprus is in fact under foreign occupation. When Cyprus became independent in 1960, three percent of the island remained under British
control, namely the Akrotiri and Dhekelia sovereign base areas. Although the
British government has offered to return 50 percent of the territory “as a kind of
endowment” to Cyprus in the event of a settlement, the Cypriot House of Representatives has called for an end to the presence of the British bases in Cyprus.
And since 1974 Turkey, a candidate for EU membership, has occupied northern Cyprus
in defiance of a number of UN Security Council and European Parliament resolutions
calling for the withdrawal of Turkish troops. Last month Turkey’s Minister for EU
Affairs, Egemen Bağış, stated that Turkey would also consider annexation if peace
talks failed. As the European Court of Human Rights has designated northern Cyprus
“a subordinate local administration”, this would be a logical step for Turkey, although
it would put an end to Turkey’s EU aspirations.
According to evidence given to the Foreign Affairs Committee, EU leaders and their public seem convinced that Turkey’s Muslim background is incompatible with European norms, but this is the issue at stake in Cyprus. If these differences cannot be reconciled in a federation, what hope is there for Turkey to fit into the European framework?
The main issues that prevent a settlement are those of governance, property, territory
and citizenship, that is, the status of the influx of Turkish settlers from the mainland, many of whom have been given Turkish Cypriot citizenship, which is only valid in northern Cyprus.
UN Security Council resolution 550 (1984) calls for the transfer of the ‘ghost city’
of Varosha to UN administration and the European Parliament has three times called
for the return of Varosha to its lawful inhabitants. But Prime Minister Erdoğan has
ruled out this move as “baseless and unacceptable” and instead called for a two-state
In the event that reunification talks fail, Turkey has threatened to boycott Cyprus’ EU term presidency from 1 July. As President Gül remarked to Turkish journalists during his state visit to London in November: “There will be a half-presidency leading a miserable union”.
The International Crisis Group (ICG) in its recent report, Aphrodite’s Gift,1 argues
the discovery of considerable natural gas resources in Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone south of the island could be conducive to a settlement. The Foreign Affairs Committee has come to the same conclusion and mentions Turkey’s potential role as
an energy transit state for the EU.
The cost of building an LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) plant on the southern coast of
Cyprus could be prohibitive, whereas the simplest way would be a pipeline to Turkey
to link up with Turkish networks, as this would be 10 percent of the cost of LNG.
Both Cypriot leaders have agreed that the administration of the island’s hydrocarbon
resources would be a federal competence, and as the UN Secretary-General’s Special
Adviser, Alexander Downer, put it: “A succesful wedding needs a dowry”. However,
the main obstacle is Turkey’s refusal to enter into negotiations with the Republic of
As the ICG notes: “This position, based on 1960s and 1970s zero-sum thinking, runs
increasingly against the interests of Turkey and the neighbourhood.” The report
concludes that the gas finds could be the locomotive for reunification and that “it is
such a settlement, and not the gas, that will one day provide the real economic bonanza
for all the inhabitants of Cyprus.”