Western Balkans to join the European family, Turkey to open its ports and airports

Nicoleta Athanasiadou, Costas Melakopides and Christos Xenophontos
Following the Slovenians’ vote in favour of their government’s agreement to accept the verdict of an international panel in mediating the dispute on the Bay of Piran, Cypriot diplomats expressed the belief that Croatia will be able to complete its membership talks with Brussels in the coming year, putting the country on track to become the EU’s 28th member in 2012.[1]
According to our Ministry of Foreign Affairs interlocutors, Cyprus supports the Western Balkans aspirations to join the European family, adding that the resolution of the maritime dispute between Croatia and Slovenia sends a significant message to other countries in the region that wish to become EU members: namely, to resolve any bilateral issues that might block their EU talks.[2] An obvious example is the name dispute between the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Greece: an agreed upon settlement will definitely speed up FYROM’s accession prospects.
The same applies to the case of Turkey. As is well known, Cyprus – banking on Turkey’s “Europeanisation” – has supported its bid to become a full EU member, provided that Ankara complies with its EU obligations and commitments and adopts in full the European norms and values. Turkey, however, keeps refusing to open its ports and airports to Cyprus unless the so-called “isolation” of the Turkish Cypriots is lifted.[3] In this connection, it is noteworthy that EU Enlargement Commissioner, Štefan Füle, during his June 2010 meeting in Ankara with Turkish chief EU negotiator, Egemen Bağiş, acknowledged that Turkey holds the key for the opening of the “frozen chapters”, since it refuses to implement the Ankara Protocol.[4] Füle observed that it is not yet time for Turkey’s full EU accession, adding however that when that time comes, Turkey will be “a different country” from what it is today. On the same subject, Cypriot Member of the European Parliament Koullis Mauronikolas (Party of European Socialists – PES) emphasised that the issue of ratification of the Ankara Protocol does not constitute a Cyprus-Turkey dispute, but a clear issue of EU-Turkey relations. He added that, manifestly, the dispute between Cyprus and Turkey is the island’s military occupation and the fair and functional settlement of the Cyprus problem.[5]
Following Egemen Bağiş’ quip, that if he were a Cypriot he would work more for Ankara’s accession than the Turkish negotiator, Cypriot government spokesman Stefanos Stefanou replied that Turkey cannot possibly demand a carte blanche in its EU progress, while it insists on violating the UN resolutions and international and European law in Cyprus.[6] Ankara, Stefanou added, is not working in practical terms towards a Cyprus settlement. If, he noted, Turkey fulfils its obligations to the EU and the Republic of Cyprus, then it will discover how supportive the Republic can be regarding its accession course.
Political analysts and press columnists have long been concurring that Turkey is far from being honest concerning its intentions about the Cyprus problem. This was reiterated forcefully after the April 2010 election of veteran nationalist politician, Derviş Eroğlu, as the new leader of the Turkish Cypriot Community. Eroğlu was essentially elected by the votes from illegal Turkish settlers who live in the occupied areas of Cyprus and whose number has rapidly increased after the Annan Plan referenda in April 2004.[7] After stating as self-evident that Turkey must consent to a fair and viable solution of the Cyprus problem if it wishes to become a full EU member state, they added a truism: that it would be scandalous if Turkey joined the EU while occupying – with around 40,000 troops – 37 percent of another EU member state. According to our interlocutors, it is “quite odd” to hear from the lips of President Gul, Prime Minister Erdoğan, and Minister of Foreign Affairs Davoutoğlu that they want a resolution of the conflict by the end of 2010, while Turkish Cypriot leader Eroğlu declares that the only solution of the Cyprus problem is the creation of either two different states or a confederation with two different economies. Needles to say, both alternatives contradict the UN Security Council resolutions and the current UN-supported negotiating framework.
Meanwhile, according to ANTENA TV’s Brussels correspondent, the Cyprus government may consent to the opening of the food safety chapter for Turkey, either on 30 June 2010, at the end of the Spanish EU Presidency, or in July 2010, during the Belgian EU Presidency.[8] Were Nicosia to take this stance, it would wish to signal anew its own good will and its unceasing aspiration to facilitate the ongoing, albeit quite bumpy, Cyprus talks.
Iceland seems to Cypriot diplomats to potentially compete with Croatia for the status of the EU’s 28th member state.[9] The Nordic country is well in line with European standards: it respects the rule of law and human rights and it has already adopted a significant proportion of EU legislation through its membership of the European Economic Area. Nevertheless, issues like fishing and whaling rights are expected to be a bit challenging in the country’s EU accession trajectory.
The joint declaration at the Prague Eastern Partnership Summit between the EU member states and representatives of the Republics of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine is expected by Cypriot political observers to foster closer political and economic ties between the parties involved.[10] According to them, this attempt aims at incorporating the EU’s Foreign Policy towards Eastern Europe and the South Caucasus by developing a specific Eastern dimension of the European Neighbourhood Policy. The Eastern Partnership offers deeper bilateral relations and launches a new multilateral framework for cooperation, according to each partner’s needs and ambitions, and is trying to create conditions for a more stable development, far from internal conflicts and disputes. This effort aims at boosting EU-inspired reforms, which would ultimately lead to more economic integration and a visa-free regime. According to Cypriot political analysts, this effort will be empowered with the direct involvement of the Russian Federation, given its strong influence in most of these counties.
Concerning the Union for the Mediterranean, Cypriot political analysts acknowledge that, until now, it has not produced any substantial results.[11] The laudable ambition of the Union for the Mediterranean is to deal with energy, security, counter-terrorism, immigration and trade issues. But all projects require approval by consensus among its 48 members, around half of which are EU member states. In addition, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has blocked crucial policy issues in the entire region. Nevertheless, according to our interlocutors, the overall idea – i.e., EU member states coming together with Northern African and Middle Eastern states to discuss common problems – is praiseworthy and, therefore, it should be cultivated.
Since both initiatives – the Union for the Mediterranean and the Eastern Partnership – aim at enhancing the European Neighbourhood Policy by addressing internal problems and by promoting cooperation between third countries and the EU, they are perceived quite favourably from the Cypriot political and academic standpoint, as far as we were able to detect.

[1] Interviews conducted by Christos Xenophontos, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nicosia, June 2010.

[2] Ibid.

[3] On the myth of the so-called „isolation“ of the Turkish Cypriots see: Erato Kazakou Markoulli, former Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs, in: Costas Melakopides/Achilles Emilianides/Giorgos Kentas (eds.): The Cyprus Yearbook of International Relations 2007, Nicosia 2008).

[4] Štefan Füle, Eu Commissioner for Enlargement, Statements, Ankara, 23/06/2010 (as reported by all Cypriot Media).

[5] Koullis Mauronikolas, MEP: Statement, Nicosia, 24/06/2010 (as reported by the Cyprus News Agency).

[6] Stefanos Stefanou, Government Spokesman: Statements, Nicosia, 17/6/2010 (as reported by the Press and Information Office of the Republic of Cyprus).

[7] Interviews conducted by Christos Xenophontos and Nicoleta Athanasiadou, Nicosia, June 2010. It is crucial in this context to recall that, according to Council of Europe figures, the (illegal) Turkish settlers arriving in the occupied territory of northern Cypus have long exceeded the number of the indigenous Turkish Cypriots: “According to reliable estimates, their number curently amounts to 115,000. […The Turkish Cypriots’] number decreased from 118,000 in 1974 to an estimated 87,600 in 2001. In consequence, the settlers outnumber the indigenous Turkish Cypriot population in the northern part of the island.” See Council of Europe: Colonization by Turkish settlers of the occupied part of Cyprus, Doc. 9799, 2 May 2003, p. 2. These figures for 2001 have worsened dramatically since the April 2004 referendum on the notorious “Annan plan”.

[8] 23/05/2010 (as reported by ANTENA TV main evening news).

[9] Interviews conducted by Christos Xenophontos, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nicosia, early June 2010.

[10] Interviews conducted by Christos Xenophontos and Nicoleta Athanasiadou, Nicosia, June 2010.

[11] Ibid.