Unless the Cyprus problem is solved sanctions against Turkey are a means to a dead end
CYPRUS’ political equality as a member of the EU was on full display last week. EU foreign ministers imposed travel restrictions and froze the assets of some forty Belarusian apparatchiks except those of the president of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko. Not sure about the rationale behind exempting him. It smacks of corruption but I am sure all will be revealed in due course.
Cyprus resisted at first but then threw in the towel and went along with the imposition of sanctions on Belarus on a wing and a prayer that punitive measures would be taken against Turkey if she continues to violate Cyprus’ EEZ.
Time will tell, but unless the Cyprus problem is solved sanctions against Turkey are a means to a dead end. Turkey has changed enormously since the days when she was complaisant and easy to manage by her friends and allies. The EU prioritised human rights in Belarus, a non-member state, rather than the concerns of Cyprus, a member state, about threats to her sovereign maritime rights because it needs time to gauge how to react to Turkish assertiveness.
But there are other reasons that are part historical and part political. During the enlargement negotiations before Cyprus joined the EU in 2004 the EU were initially only prepared to agree to Cyprus joining if she first sorted out her problem. The last thing the EU wanted was a country joining with a lot of baggage and Cyprus had a long-standing intractable problem.
However, Greece made it crystal clear that enlargement eastwards would be problematic if Cyprus were not allowed to join on a best endeavours undertaking given by the government of RoC to solve the Cyprus problem rather than as a precondition of membership of the EU.
In the event the Greek Cypriot community overwhelmingly rejected the plan hatched by the UN and the EU. Far from best endeavours to vote in the plan and settle the problem, the RoC’s new president did the opposite. He made sure the plan was rejected by 75 per cent of Greek Cypriots of voting age and Cyprus joined with her problem intact.
The EU had no choice but to accept such an overwhelming vote against the UN plan, but Brussels never forgot the failure of the RoC government to keep its promise to use its best endeavours to solve the Cyprus problem, which still rankles in the corridors of power in Brussels.
Paradoxically, the Turkish Cypriots in northern Cyprus voted for the UN-EU plan but did not join the EU as a community. They had to make do with an arrangement that was put together afterwards whereby the Turkish Cypriot community was put on hold indefinitely pending a settlement. By Protocol 10 of the treaty of accession the EU legal order was limited to areas in which RoC was in effective control, leaving the terms of the EU legal order to be applied to the Turkish Cypriot community open until a settlement is agreed. A lot of people may not know this but under EU law Protocol 10 is the solution to the Cyprus problem unless and until the two sides come to some sort of agreement.
Brussels was bounced into a state of affairs that it had to accept faute de mieux, but in private I would be surprised if the Cypriots are not told to sort the Cyprus problem out every time they ask for sanctions or some other punitive measure against Turkey.
At the time the EU was desperately keen on enlargement to take in Poland, Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia and the Baltic states in 2004 and Romania and Bulgaria in 2007.
Enlargement eastwards was not only done for economic reasons, it was also of huge strategic importance as it anchored East Europe and the Baltic States firmly in the Western camp away from Russia. Unsurprisingly, the former East European members of the Warsaw Pact and the Baltic states did not just join the EU they also joined Nato, a military alliance primarily directed against Russia.
This has not gone down well at all in Moscow. The EU had taken over East Europe but East Europe particularly Poland and the Baltic states, began to influence decision making in the EU concerning Russia and states such as Ukraine and Belarus that are of a piece with Russia.
In 2014 there was regime change in Ukraine with the EU’s support, and history is now about to repeat itself if a similar change is replicated in Belarus. A corrupt and authoritarian leader is clinging to power in Belarus and the EU is pressing for regime change. Last time as soon as the regime changed in Ukraine, Russia annexed Crimea. So watch this space because if Russia is not consulted about Belarus anything may happen.
Like Ukraine, Belarus is close to the heart of Russia and the EU’s two most powerful states, France and Germany, should know better.
As for Cyprus, my guess is that President Anastasiades knows – because the EU has been telling him since 2004 – that the only way to deal with Turkey is to reach a settlement in Cyprus. But the most opportune time for a settlement is not after the Turkish Cypriot elections on October 11, 2020, but after the Greek Cypriot elections in 2023.
And lastly Patroclos was spot on last week when he surmised that rumours of Nicos Anastasiades’ early retirement as president of the Republic of Cyprus have been greatly exaggerated. At 74 he is still going strong like Johnny Walker.
President Glafcos Clerides was 74 when he first became president, 79 when he was elected for a second term and 84 when he fought a third in 2003. Anastasiades too might fancy his chances a third time if only to get a settlement – like his friend and mentor.
Alper Ali Riza is a queen’s counsel in the UK and a retired part time judge