Cyprus seeks EU support on reunification
By Eric Maurice
With talks reaching what could be the final stage toward reunification of the island, Cyprus is calling on the EU to throw its full support behind a settlement.
The EU "needs to focus more" and be ready to play a political role in the period after an agreement is reached, Cyprus's EU ambassador told EUobserver.
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"We're talking about the transformation of a state," Kornelios Korneliou said in an interview, pointing out the challenges both for Cyprus and the EU.
"We need to make sure we come to a solution that will be sustainable and endure time and avoid adventures that will have an impact on our EU partners”, he said.
He also said the EU should put more pressure on Turkey, which occupies half the island and which does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus, to facilitate a settlement.
Leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci, are engaged in talks to try to finalise a settlement that many hope could be reached before the end of the year.
The island has been divided since Turkey invaded in 1974 and created the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, an entity recognised only by Turkey.
The Republic of Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but one week before accession, the Greek Cypriot community rejected a UN peace plan by referendum. As a consequence, the northern part of the island is de facto not part of the EU.
If current negotiations succeed, Cyprus would be reunified as a "bizonal and bicommunal federation" where Greek and Turkish Cypriots would have the same rights.
European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said on 11 October: "I do think that this is the moment for reunification. If we are missing this opportunity, this opportunity will never come back."
Talks could still fail on issues such as the territory attributed to each community, the security of the island - where 40,000 Turkish troops are still positioned - the future of the estimated 200,000 Turkish settlers, compensation for Greeks who were expelled in 1974 and the so-called system of guarantees.
Since Cyprus’ independence in 1960, the UK, Greece and Turkey are the guarantors of the island's sovereignty. Greek Cypriots want that to end, but Turkish Cypriots and Turkey want Ankara to still play a role.
To unblock the situation, Cyprus would like the EU to be "more vocal" with Turkey, its EU ambassador said.
The EU should explain that "1960 is one thing and 2016 another thing".
"You cannot be the one who guarantees the security of your neighbourhood or promote peace and security in the world globally, and ignore the fact that one of your members is divided and occupied, and that its sovereignty is guaranteed by three countries," he said.
He said that the EU, when dealing with Ankara, should put more emphasis on normalisation of ties between Turkey and Cyprus.
If Turkey wants to be closer to the EU, the EU should insist that "it consists of 28 members", he said. "Closer relationships should apply in equal terms to all member states,” he said.
Once a settlement is agreed and the island is reunified, one of the main challenges would be the economic situation, both in the short and long term, the ambassador added.
In the short term, an agreement between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders would be put to referendum in both communities. In order to secure a positive vote, people, especially in the Greek community, would have to be reassured that they would not lose out.
In the long term, the challenge would be to build in the Turkish part administrative and economic structures that are in line with EU laws and standards.
So far, the non-recognised area has, for instance, no legal right to establish or promote business, and the "community acquis" - the corpus of EU laws - is not applied.
It is difficult to know how prepared the Turkish part would be to be integrated in the EU, its single market and the eurozone, of which Cyprus is a member.
"We need to make sure that the financial situation in the northern part will be sustainable," Korneliou said.
Cyprus itself, in March, exited a three-year bailout programme created by the EU and the International Monetary Fund and remains vulnerable to the economic shock that a reunification would represent.
The technical work to identify areas where and when the EU acquis can be implemented has already started, with the European Commission taking a "very welcome" central role, the ambassador said.
"There is a lot of preparatory work which is not that visible," he said.
A Task Force for the Turkish Cypriot Community, which was created in 2004, has been revived and was installed in the commission's Structural Reform Support Service (SRSS) earlier this year.
Its experts go regularly to Cyprus to explain the acquis to Turkish Cypriot officials and to prepare the ground for when it will have to be applied, in areas such as as the budget, finance, public administration, labour market, and in health services.
Even if work were intensified in the period between an agreement being signed and the moment it entered into force, the Turkish side would not be able to apply all the acquis and a transition period would probably have to be defined.
For the Cypriot ambassador, it was important that the EU made clear that there would be "a transitional period, not permanent derogations".
"It's very important to make sure that the united Cyprus will be a normal member state and will function in a normal way," he said.
Beyond the economic and administrative challenges, Cyprus sees reunification as an opportunity to unlock its full potential within the EU.
A united island would be "a great thing for Cyprus but also a big thing for the EU", Korneliou said.
He noted that for many Europeans, "Cyprus is a very small member state, an island far away," and admitted that "sometimes [we] ourselves forget we are part of this union".
"We don't have the interaction the other peoples of European Union have," he said.
"Our closest country is Turkey, then you have Lebanon, Israel, Syria, Egypt. Its a different neighbourhood. Anything but a European neighbourhood."
He added that "despite being conquered by so many different conquerors, Cyprus has always been part of European history and civilisation".
With the end of the occupation of part of a member state, "an anomaly will be lifted", he said.
"That will allow the EU to tap into full potential in region: energy prospects, EU-Nato cooperation, Turkey's accession process will have new momentum."
If Anastasiades and Akinci overcome the last obstacles before the end of the year, two simultaneous referendums could be organised before summer.
The reunification date would depend on how much time is needed to prepare the referendums, a new constitution, a federal law, and adoption of the EU acquis.
"I hope it can happen as soon as possible," ambassador Korneliou said.