EU looks to Turkey to help Greek Cyprus
The EU’s economic affairs commissioner Olli Rehn is calling for the reunification of Cyprus as a way out for the Greek Cypriot economy, which experts predict will contract by 13 percent over the next two years. “It is worth recalling that the reunification of the island would give a major boost to the economic and social development of Cyprus,” Rehn told members of the European Parliament on May 8, according to Euobserver.com.
Daniel Cohn-Bendit, who heads the Greens in the European Parliament, came out recently with a similar statement, reprimanding the EU for not insisting on a reunification clause in the bailout package for Greek Cyprus. “Turkish investors will only invest in Cyprus when there’s a reunification,” he was quoted by the media saying.
There is more than one bitter irony here, the main one being that EU officials are now looking to Turkey as one of the ways out for a crisis-stricken member. This must be hard to swallow for Greek Cypriots who are said to be extremely wary of current calls for a settlement to the Cyprus problem, believing that the Turkish side will take advantage of their woes. Euobserver.com also quoted Fiona Mullen, an analyst with the Nicosia-based Sapienta Economics, who said “The dominant discourse in the mainstream [Greek Cypriot] media is: ‘We don’t want to be blackmailed into accepting a solution that we find to be unacceptable.’”
That path, however, appears clear for a growing number of EU officials, even if it is not for Greek Cypriots, who are today seriously traumatized. What Rehn and Cohn-Bendit, and others like them, are saying in effect is that a Turkey whose economy continues to grow should be availed of by Greek Cyprus as it seeks a way out of its current situation.
The reunification that EU officials are plugging now will of course mean a power sharing settlement to the Cyprus problem, based on a bi-communal and bi-zonal arrangement in which the two communities enjoy political equality. But the Greek Cypriots rejected this formula a decade ago when they went to a referendum on the Annan Plan.
Defunct as that plan may be, it nevertheless encapsulates the basic tenets that any settlement has to include. Judging by what Mullen and others are saying, however, minds have not changed much in the south of the island in this respect since the Annan Plan was rejected.
What has changed fundamentally, however, is not just the economic situation of Greek Cypriots. Today their deep resentment is focused more on the EU, which they hoped when they joined a decade ago would not only enrich them further – given that their per capita income was already high – but, much more crucially, would also give them serious leverage over Turkey.
The unfair treatment meted out by the EU to the Turkish Cypriots, despite the fact that they accepted the Annan Plan in line with EU expectations, appeared to encourage them in this expectation too. But then the “knife touched the bone,” to quote a Turkish saying, and Greek Cyprus started becoming an expensive proposition for Europe.
Today, more and more EU officials are singing a different tune on Greek Cyprus’s EU membership, with much regret being aired over this. Greek Cypriots would never have predicted, of course, that 10 years after joining their EU membership would turn out to be the real bane of their lives.
It is logical, however, for them to look to Turkey at a time like this, and aim for a settlement that is not based on brinkmanship or one-upmanship. They will most likely find an interlocutor in Turkey that is not a “blackmailer,” but rather is cooperative, since an equitable settlement on Cyprus also serves the interests of Ankara and the Turkish Cypriots.
The hope is that once their trauma is over this will become more apparent to Greek Cypriots, given the way balances are changing, not just in Europe, but also in the Eastern Mediterranean. Otherwise, it will be a case of, “You go your way, and I’ll go mine,” which would be of no benefit to anyone.