May 1 marked the 15th anniversary of Cyprus’ accession to the European Union. It was the biggest achievement of the Clerides government, but the man that made it happen was Greece’s prime minister at the time Costas Simitis, who, through his negotiating skills, had managed to force Cyprus into the Union’s enlargement process. This was backed with assurances from then president Glafcos Clerides that he would work for a settlement to ensure a united Cyprus would join the EU.
This did not happen because his successor, Tassos Papadopoulos, elected in 2003, had other plans despite giving repeated assurances to the Commission that he was committed to reunification. He never was and zealously campaigned against the Annan peace plan which was overwhelmingly rejected by the Greek Cypriots in the referendum held a week before the accession date. One of the arguments used by Papadopoulos in urging the rejection of the plan was that a week after the referendum Cyprus would be a full member of the EU and in a position to negotiate a deal much more favourable to the Greek Cypriots.
Fifteen years have passed since those promises were made, countless rounds of negotiations have followed, several international conferences were held but the more favourable settlement failed to materialise even though a passionately pro-reunification Turkish Cypriot leader was elected. As a full member, the Republic made some ineffective attempts to pressure Turkey over its failure to implement the Ankara Protocol by which it had to recognise all member-states and blocked the opening of some chapters in Turkey’s accession negotiations. It kept trying despite the Commission making it clear the Union would not be used by the Cyprus government to score points against Turkey.
This was not only evident after the referendum when German Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen publicly accused Papadopoulos of deceiving him about the settlement but a certain distrust has remained in the Commission. After Crans Montana the Cyprus government was very unhappy with the stance taken by the EU’s head of foreign affairs Federica Mogherini who was critical of President Anastasiades’ unhelpful stance that contributed to the collapse of the process. The Commission, inevitably, accepted Mogherini’s version of events rather than Nicosia’s.
The reality was that Brussels would never allow one of its smallest member states to jeopardise its relations with Turkey, something the nationalists of Cyprus were unable to understand. This was why Brussels had been regularly attacked by the nationalist camp here, accused of not showing solidarity with a member-state and of failing to take a stand against Turkish actions affecting the island. It has not helped our case that on the two main occasions a settlement was on offer we turned it down, rejecting it in a referendum or by ensuring the collapse of talks.
Why would EU member-states show solidarity for a partner that was committed to a settlement only in words, but in practice supported maintaining the status quo? Why would they help it pursue an agenda that would inexorably lead to a two-state solution that Brussels would never sanction because it would encourage other separatist movements within the Union. One party leader privately remarked recently that if we were to secure the two-state solution, which appears to be Anastasiades’ preference, we would first have to leave the EU. Such is the extent of Brussel’s opposition to separatist tendencies.
What our grandstanding politicians, for whom no compromise deal would ever be good enough, fail to understand – or do not want to – is that membership of the EU not only guarantees a viable settlement but it also secures the long-term future of the island’s Greek Cypriot population. All the alleged concerns cited by Anastasiades in his anti-settlement discourse would not be an issue for a united country within the EU. For instance, the feared strong influence of Turkey over the Turkish Cypriots would be drastically curtailed as Brussels directives and not Ankara’s would be followed. Brussels would not tolerate a member state following the diktats of a third country. At the same time Turkish Cypriot fears of being dominated by the Greek Cypriot majority would be addressed by Brussels.
The inflow of Turkish nationals and Turkish capital into the north, which is already taking place at an alarming rate, would be drastically restricted and under Brussels’ authority. The EU borders would become the island’s northern coastline and not the current ceasefire line, thus eradicating the threat of clashes with the Turkish army in the future. It is astonishing that after 15 years of EU membership our short-sighted politicians still fail to see that this membership will not pave the way for the perfect settlement but it would ensure a deal that would last as well as offering a real safeguard against the northern part of the island being flooded with hundreds of thousands more Turkish nationals in the not too distant future.
Even the status quo, protected by Unficyp, which gives Greek Cypriots a false sense of security, will not last indefinitely.