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Europe's Coming Crisis with Turkey

LONDON: By the end of the second week of December the European Union will finally have decided which countries will be asked to enter membership negotiations. Most people expect that invitations will go out to six countries (Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia), because this was the list recommended by the European Commission earlier this year.

In Eastern Europe, the EU choice will no doubt be well received by the fortunate five. In the case of Cyprus, unfortunately, the EU commitment to negotiate now looks more and more like a lethal political detonator, with explosive but incalculable consequences for the future of the European Union, and major dangers for the political and security order in the Eastern Mediterranean.

The problem is that the officially-recognised government of Cyprus does not really represent the whole island. Cyprus has long been divided between the Greek Cypriot majority in the south and the Turkish Cypriot minority in the north; it is thus in some sense a miniature of the larger and long-standing conflict between Greece and Turkey. But for the past two decades the division of Cyprus has been physical and military, ever since the Turkish government in 1974 sent troops to the north, and helped create a separate so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC).

As far as the United Nations is concerned, the Greek Cypriot government in the south is the sole internationally recognised government for the whole island; only Turkey recognises the existence of the government of the TRNC. But the fact remains that, in any negotiations with the European Union, the Greek Cypriot government will not be able to speak for the whole of Cyprus. So it is not really clear how these negotiations can take place, or what kind of treaty commitments the Cyprus government can realistically put its name to.