There are several ways of reading the conclusions of the European Council meeting. President Anastasiades’ reading was entirely positive and he was absolutely satisfied with them even though the targeted measures against Turkey he had been vociferously calling for in the past, have been put off until March’s meeting; that they remained an option was good enough. President Erdogan also signaled his satisfaction with the conclusions, although it was not absolute, arguing that the game against Turkey was not allowed by what he described as countries with common sense.
President Anastasiades went through each paragraph of the conclusions relating to Turkey’s actions to explain his absolute satisfaction, highlighting the Council’s condemnation of Ankara’s “unilateral steps in Varosha,” and acknowledgement that “Turkish unilateral and provocative activities in the Eastern Mediterranean are still taking place.” He was also satisfied that the Council expressed support “for the speedy resumption of negotiations under the auspices of the UN” and that a positive EU-Turkey agenda was dependent on Turkey “showing readiness to resolve differences through dialogue and in accordance with international law.”
Belligerent opposition parties in Cyprus had a completely different reading of the conclusions that led them to talk about the “wretchedness” of the EU, for its failure to “defend its principles and values” and putting the “financial interests of a few member-states first”. They also saw the conclusions as a “heavy defeat” for the government which had failed to persuade its EU partners that the “credibility and future of Europe is being judged in the Eastern Mediterranean,” and the “policy of appeasement of Turkey has failed.” Opposition party disappointment was absolute as all were staunch supporters of tough sanctions against Turkey.
There was another possible reading of the conclusions, certain hard truths that our politicians refuse to recognise, let alone accept. The EU is determined to restore good relations with Turkey, for economic, political and strategic reasons and is not prepared to endanger this objective by imposing sanctions, which Cyprus and Greece have been demanding. Nor is it prepared to allow a small member-state to dictate relations with Turkey, leading the Union on a confrontation path when its aim is the smoothing of relations. Most importantly though, neither the Commission nor the powerful member states will allow the Cyprus government to use the EU as a vehicle to pursue its open agenda with Turkey on the Cyprus issue.
Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, on the promise that there would be a Cyprus settlement which was not fulfilled and since then Cyprus governments have been trying to use the Union to punish Turkey in a variety of ways, in the process souring relations between Brussels and Ankara. Our politicians have constantly been creating expectations among the public of putting Turkey in the dock and when our EU partners refuse to oblige, they attack the Union for betraying its values and principles and showing its solidarity with empty words.
It appears the Commission and some of the big member-states have decided they can no longer allow Turkey-EU relations to be affected by the Cyprus problem. Paragraph 33 of the conclusions makes it very clear that the European Council “remains fully committed to a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem within the UN framework.” More significantly, it agreed that “upon resumption of the negotiations, under the UN Secretary-General’s auspices, the EU will appoint a representative to the UN Good Offices Mission.” This representative will be there to ensure the Cyprus government remains committed to the process and does and to help facilitate a deal because this is what the EU wants. The Council would also coordinate “on matters relating to Turkey and the Eastern Mediterranean with the United States.”
The conclusions of the Council make it very clear that for the EU a Cyprus settlement is an imperative as it is considered the only way for realising “the EU’s strategic interest in the development of a cooperative and mutually beneficial relationship with Turkey.” And it will assist the settlement drive by having its own representative join the UN Good Offices Mission. The Council even agreed to satisfy Turkey’s demand for a multilateral conference on the Eastern Mediterranean asking its High Representative to take the proposal forward. This was an acknowledgement that Turkey’s arguments against Cyprus’ gas explorations were not without merit and that the issue had to be resolved through dialogue.
The possibility of sanctions was not removed from the table and the matter will be revisited in March’s Council meeting, but we suspect that until then there will be a lot of pressure from the EU for negotiations on a Cyprus settlement to yield a result.