It was to be expected that the government would focus on the positives of the report on the EU’s relations with Turkey, especially as the discussion of sanctions has been put off for another three months, until June’s European Council.
Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides was satisfied with the ‘carrot and stick’ approach that was adopted by the report, which, according to the High Representative of Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell recognised “that since last December, we have seen some signs and steps towards the de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean from the Turkish leadership.” Sanctions remained on the table and could be imposed if Turkey “steers away from the constructive course which it has taken lately.”
Under the circumstances, it was the best the Cyprus government could have hoped for, given the European Commission’s resolve to pursue the ‘positive agenda’ with Turkey, which plans to address the refugees issue and provide Ankara with more funds. Expanding the scope of customs unions and visa free travel of Turkish citizens are also part of the positive agenda, although Borrell said that this was a “progressive, proportionate and reversible approach.”
The other part of the ‘carrot and stick’ that Christodoulides mentioned was that the Cyprus problem had been referred to as a key element in relations between the EU and Turkey. Without a Cyprus settlement, Borrell said, the normalisation of EU-Turkey relations would remain extremely challenging. For the government, it is all about putting a positive spin on the report, but it is unlikely President Anastasiades would be very happy with the EU making the normalisation of relations with Turkey dependent on a solution to the Cyprus problem. He would be aware that this would mean pressure being applied on Cyprus as well as Turkey by the EU to reach a deal.
It is not for the fun of it that the EU has insisted on being present at the five-party conference and subsequent negotiations but because it has a stake in a settlement being reached. It does not want the Cyprus problem to carry on adversely affecting its relations with Turkey, the strengthening of which is a priority for the Commission. One step in this direction is the resumption, after a five-year hiatus, of the dialogue between Greece and Turkey over their maritime dispute and the restart of the Cyprus peace process would be another.
The Solidarity Movement may have had a point in saying that linking the normalisation of EU-Turkey relations to a Cyprus settlement would turn out to be a ‘stick’ for the Cyprus Republic. We doubt the Cyprus government would ever admit there is such a possibility though.