By Ismail Veli………
In the run up to the historic referendum of the Kofi Annan plan in 2004 designed to re-unify Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots (TC’s) and Greek Cypriots (GC’s) were offered the carrot of EU membership. The hope was to persuade the peoples of the two main communities to put aside their historic differences and join what was then a dynamic, expanding organisation. The TC’s in particular after decades of isolation due to the embargoes felt it was time to grab the historic opportunity. On 24th April 2004 they voted by 65% to re-unite the island in the hope that their lives would improve.
Unfortunately the GC’s in-spite of promises by their leaders that they would encourage their people to support the plan did a U turn and with only 7 days left before their accession date, completely rejected the plan by a massive 76%. This in no small part was helped with the GC leader Papadopoulos pleading for a no vote in tears on their TV sets, but mostly the 180 degree turn by the AKEL party who had for a long time paid lip service to their TC ”brothers”. AKEL sided with the nationalist Papadopoulos and helped destroy what was in effect an opportunity to bury the hatchet. The prospect of Cyprus being a member of the EU would, they believed, give the GC’s an advantage in forcing more concessions from the TC’s. The EU was angry and within a few days of the referendum in response to their positive unification vote the EU pledged to lift the embargoes and offered financial help to the TC’s. Nothing happened however and the views of the Cypriots since is as entrenched as ever.
We are now in 2016, the British have voted to leave the EU. Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain have all been struggling with severe economic recession and Cyprus is only now starting to recover from austerity which has crippled its economy in the last few years. The TC side has strangely had a period of economic growth but its underlying structure of over the top bureaucracy, nepotism and partisan politics is as entrenched as ever. The EU is crumbling before our eyes and seemingly incapable of getting its house in order. The EU no longer offers the attraction it once did, and even the support of the GC’s reeling from austerity has been on the wane. Turkey itself has been knocking on the door of the EU.
Under Erdogan’s leadership, which originally showed much enthusiasm for a progressive set of reforms and dynamic economic growth things have gone pear-shaped. The latest GC elections showed the nationalists have a large support while the TC’s are in a perpetual state of partisan bickering, and in spite of a healthy economic growth in the last decade seem incapable of addressing long term financial, economic and structural reforms that will put at ease a growing awareness among younger generations that something needs to change. While the EU originally formed the basis of modernization and forward thinking the recent events in the UK has exposed the fragility of the EU’s future. The EU failed the TC’s and though still attractive to a degree no longer seems remotely the magnet it once was. If the UK exit proves to be catastrophic its attraction will be even less. The UK is still a guarantor power however, while the EU will be even more wary of upsetting its existing members. They simply cannot afford any more exits which would be the result if Turkey was remotely accepted into a family that essentially sees itself as a Christian organisation.
Will Turkey’s relationship with the UK take on a different direction? and can the TC’s be a part of the need for the UK to re-align, or change its policies towards the TC’s vis a vis embargoes, direct investment etc? Its relationship with Turkey will no doubt take on a different dimension in that the UK will not want to reduce its foreign policies to a downgraded and ineffectual level. A strategic partnership with Turkey may turn out to be an important foreign policy initiative for both countries. Whether the UK political leadership has the ability to recapture its old influence is of course debatable, as for the TC’s they simply do not have the market attraction to help change British policy on the island. With so much turmoil and uncertainty it’s doubtful the British even want to change course on Cypriot policy which has been rather abysmal at the best of times. As for the argument by some Cypriots that the 2 British sovereign bases in Cyprus be abandoned, this is simply wishful thinking. These are legally part of British territory. With the Middle East, North Africa in turmoil and Russia’s re-emergence as a main power in the region, the UK would never even consider such an option.
Regarding the decision by the British people’s Brexit vote to leave the EU, President Mustafa Akıncı stressed his belief that Turkish Cypriot people should continue to see their future in the European Union. In a written statement, President Akıncı stated that ”despite the narrow majority in which it was reached, the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU is a democratic one.” Pointing out that the decision would have a ”broad political, economic and social impact.” It seems the hope of reaching an agreement with the GC’s, then join the EU, is the cornerstone of Akinci’s policy. But first he needs an agreement.
It’s clear that a lot of lip service has been paid to the desire to end the problem. Sadly Anastasiades does not seem to have the courage of his convictions, and the usual ”Turk bashing” seems to be his most attractive get out clause. Akincı for all his desire to conclude the talks as soon as possible simply has no clout to convince his counterpart that drastic change of direction needs courageous decisions which are not forthcoming. In short it’s doubtful the Brexit vote will change UK policy towards the Island, Erdogan is more concerned with his own self-centered ideas of reshaping Turkey, and is more likely to look to mend its relations with Israel and Russia, while knocking on the EU’s door for decades to come. Greece on the other hand is not even in the equation. Its economy and influence on the island is at a low ebb.
In the meantime Cypriot leaders will continue to drink Turkish coffee, munch their baklava, have a rant once in a while, talk the talk but prove to be incapable of steering Cyprus to the closing chapter of an agreed settlement. As a Cypriot, I for one am sick and tired of the cat and mouse games played at the negotiation table. The TC side is simply incapable of diplomatic manoeuvre and seem constrained by the lack of ability or clout to change the course of the 50 years of repetition and failure of the talks. The GC’s while wily and competent at the negotiation table simply play for time, drag the talks in perpetuity but have no end game plan other than the consolidation of division and despair which they profess to hate.
Only the rising and setting of the sun is guaranteed, the rest of Cypriot political direction is just a lot of mumbo jumbo.