Restart the Talks on Cyprus

LONDON -- Ever since Greek Cypriots rejected the United Nations plan to reunite Cyprus in 2004, antagonism has grown between the Greek majority and the Turks in the north of the island. Turkish Cypriots have withdrawn into Turkey’s embrace and have attempted to gain greater international recognition. Greek Cypriots are using their European Union membership as a weapon to frustrate Turkey’s EU ambitions and to block attempts to increase trade between the EU and the island’s north.

The EU cannot let Cyprus stew in its own juice, not least because as a member state the island is proving an uncomfortable bedfellow. The whole of Cyprus joined the EU in May 2004, but the acquis communautaire – the body of EU law – applies only to areas under direct government control, so it is suspended in those parts administered by Turkish Cypriots. The Turkish government, unwisely, became embroiled with the EU over its plan to extend the customs union to include all new member states, including Cyprus. Meanwhile, the EU has failed to deliver fully on aid and trade pledges to Turkish Cypriots.

Perhaps most worrying of all, if the stalemate over Cyprus continues, it could end Turkey’s chances of joining the EU, as Greek Cypriot intransigence has given succor to other member states that want to keep Turkey out. It might also prevent rapprochement between Greece and Turkey, despite the hopes raised by Greek Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis’s recent visit to Turkey – the first in almost a half-century.

There are plenty of obstacles in the way of a negotiated solution to the Cyprus problem. Just over a year ago, the Finnish EU presidency failed to break the gridlock over the Cyprus trade issue, illustrating again the limited value of trying to agree partial solutions and “confidence-building” measures. The UN’s latest initiative to get low-key, exploratory talks moving is going nowhere. Cypriot presidential elections this month may give a second term to Tasos Papadopoulos, the Greek Cypriot leader who led the “No” campaign in the 2004 reunification referendum.