22nd Oct 2016

Turkish Cypriots fear implications of Cyprus EU presidency

  • Cyprus will run the day-to-day business of the EU from July until the end of the year (Photo: khowaga1)

While Cyprus is feverishly preparing its EU presidency starting 1 July, Turkish Cypriots from the isolated northern part of the island fear that Nicosia's international role will entrench divisions between the two sides.

"There is both exhaustion and the need for change in the Cyprus talks," says Osman Ertug, a spokesperson for the Turkish Cypriot community. "There is hardly any subject that has not been discussed and rediscussed."

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He admits there is "no organic link" between Cyprus taking on the day-to-day running of the EU for the next six months and the Cyprus question, but suggests the developmwnt will cement the status quo.

"It will boost the self-confidence of the other side," says Ertug.

Ertug's appeal - made at the European Policy Centre think-tank on Tuesday (19 June) - comes eight years after Cyprus entered the EU as an island divided between Greek Cypriots in the south and Turkish Cypriots in the north.

The island has been split since 1974 after Turkey invaded following a Greek-backed coup.

Negotiations to reconcile both sides - include the latest round to create a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation - have outlasted the political lives of six United National secretary generals, six Greek Cypriot leaders and three Turkish Cypriot leaders.

Northern Cyprus, on a third of the territory and with about 20 percent of the 1 million population, is formally recognised only by Ankara.

It smarts under its relative economic and political isolation. EU law is suspended in the territory. There are no direct flights to the area. And a European Commission pledge to enact direct trade between the EU and the north is going nowhere.

Turkey - which has resettled more Turkish citizens to northern Cyprus than there were original Turkish-origin natives - also maintains at least 30,000 thousands troops in the northern part.

Ertug called on the EU to exert pressure on Cyprus to tackle the issue, claiming that Greek Cypriots have been dragging their feet in UN-negotiated talks.

"We are in the European Union but we are not. We are Europeans but we are not," he said.

EU officials, for their part, note that the commission has no leverage to exert pressure on Cyprus on the issue.

But enlargement commissioner Stefan Fuele says that Turkish Cypriot fears about Cyprus' EU presidency are misplaced.

Cyprus' presidency will make other EU states "more aware of the situation on the island. They will better understand the challenges faced by a de facto divided member state," said the commissioner ahead of this week's visit to the island.

"This should inject a new sense of urgency to solve the Cyprus problem," he added.

Cyprus officials, keen for their six month presidency stint to show that the island is more than its protracted division, resent both Ertug's timing and his words.

"It's a pity they are returning to this rhetoric just ahead of the presidency. They are trying to poison the presidency," said Nikos Christodoulides, spokesperson of the Cyprus representation in Brussels.

Meanwhile, longtime watchers of the problem believe negotiations - stuck on myriad issues including property rights and security - will stay off the agenda until after the presidency and after the Greek Cypriot elections next year.

Amanda Paul from the European Policy Centre agrees that the "Greek Cypriots have been going at a slower pace" than the Turkish Cypriots want.

But a real move is needed from one of the players to give the talks impetus.

"Ideally, Turkey should abide by its obligations and open its airspace and ports to Greek Cypriots," Paul said.

"People are saying: 'Why can't you open a port?' Really, it's not a big deal. It's not going to change our economic situation or harm us. It's a matter of principle," Turkey's EU ambassador, Selim Yenel, told this website.

"If it's annoying, let's have an annoyance, so that people are aware there is a situation going on."

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