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Our View: The sterile practice of using Cyprus’ EU membership to punish Turkey

cyprus president nikos christodoulides speaks during a press conference with european parliament president roberta metsola at the zenon joint rescue coordination center in larnaca
President Nikos Christodoulides

President Nikos Christodoulides expressed his “particular satisfaction” that his stated objective of linking the EU-Turkey relations with the Cyprus issue was achieved at the special meeting of the European Council on Wednesday.

“From the start, we set a target, the substantive linking of EU-Turkey relations with the Cyprus issue, and this emerges clearly from yesterday’s conclusions, but also from the discussion we had,” he said the next day. “Last night we sent a positive message to Turkey and the transformation of this message into specific, positive developments in EU-Turkey relations depends on the progress on the Cyprus issue,” he said.

The EU conclusions were not so clear-cut, saying the “EU attaches particular importance to resumption of and progress in the Cyprus settlement talks in further enhancing EU-Turkey cooperation.” Nevertheless, government sources in Nicosia briefing journalists said the conclusions were “adequately clear” and the Council offered Turkey the opportunity to make gestures (on the Cyprus issue), which would have results in EU-Turkey relations.

The government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis’ reading was that the “positive message” of Cyprus and the EU was that “we desire to be constructive, and there could be progress on the points, the chapters that interest Turkey, as long as there is the corresponding progress in the Cyprus issue.” Nicosia’s narrative has also involved the UN secretary-general’s personal envoy Maria Angela Holguin in Turkey-EU relations with government sources telling Phileleftheros that during her visits to Paris, Berlin and Brussels – before her arrival in Cyprus in May – she would be given a “clear sign” of what the EU expects of Turkey.

It seems the government has let its imagination run wild, reading whatever it wants into the conclusion of the European Council, which said that it “is ready to play an active role in supporting all stages of the UN-led process, with all appropriate means at its disposal”. How this was interpreted to mean that the EU would tell Holguin what it expects from Turkey is difficult to understand, but there is a tradition of reading texts relating to Cyprus in whichever way that suits us. There is no way governments in Germany and France or the European Commission would interfere in the work of Holguin, although Nicosia sources hoped they would “convey the messages to the Turkish side of how it should move on Cyprus”.

Turkey wasted no time expressing its displeasure about the conclusions as it had hoped the Joint Communication of the High Representative and the Commission on political, economic and trade relations would have been adopted by the European Council without any caveats. The Turkish foreign ministry issued a terse statement, saying the linking of the Cyprus issue to EU-Turkey relations would never be accepted. “The approach that restricts the multi-faceted Turkey-EU relations to the Cyprus issue must be abandoned; such a mentality cannot contribute positively and constructively to the Cyprus issue,” it said.

This reaction could be viewed as an indication of Christodoulides’ success in Brussels, but the linkage he secured seems more in line with the sterile practice of using Cyprus’ membership of the EU to punish Turkey for the occupation rather than to create conditions that would lead to a Cyprus breakthrough. There have been several such attempts, which started with the blocking of chapters in Turkey’s accession negotiations with the EU by the Tassos Papadopoulos presidency. The Anastasiades government also tried the same tactic after the Crans-Montana collapse, when Turkey was violating the Cypriot EEZ, without any success.

Punishing Turkey appears to have become an end in itself, because it has been shown not to lead anywhere. It certainly does not create favourable conditions for reaching a settlement, which is supposedly the objective of Cyprus governments. President Christodoulides insists this is his number one priority, because the status quo is unsustainable, but does he seriously believe he can achieve this objective by linking Turkey’s relations with the EU to progress in the Cyprus issue? Perhaps he knows something we do not, but past experience has shown that such tactics do not yield the desired results.

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