It threatens to put a spanner in the works of what could be the European Union’s biggest-ever decision. The tricky topic is Cyprus – the ethnically-split Mediterranean island over which Ankara and the EU fail to see eye-to-eye. The problem is highlighted by Rusen Ergec, a Turkish specialist in constitutional law at the Free University of Brussels. “Cyprus will certainly come up for discussion and at that point a thorny problem will have to be examined,” he said.
“Should Turkey recognize Cyprus, the Greek administration in Cyprus, the Greek government of Cyprus in so far as this government has a seat in the European Council and is already a member of the European Union?” So far, the answer has been an emphatic “No”. The southern internationally-recognized part of Cyprus joined the EU in May. Not so, the northern part where Turkey maintains a strong military presence.
Ankara alone recognizes this breakaway enclave as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Turkish troops invaded back in 1974 in response to a Greek-inspired coup. An attempt at reunification earlier this year ended in failure, with those in the north and south failing to agree on a power-sharing plan proposed by the United Nations. The south gave the thumbs down in a referendum. The people of the north, however, endorsed efforts to make Cyprus one again.
The outcome of the lack of consensus was that only the south could take its place in the EU club. It means the new kid on the bloc, led by Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos, could effectively veto Ankara’s candidacy. Nonetheless there might be a way to overcome deep-seated differences, if delicate diplomacy is brought into play.
Ergec argues that the very fact that Turkey is dealing with the EU could be seen as de facto recognition of Cyprus – now a member state. If the Greek Cypriots were willing to settle for this, he goes on, they could ask Turkey to make concessions – for example, to look again at certain points in the UN plan that they did not like.
Easier said than done, of course, in what remains a highly-complex problem where letting bygones be bygones will require compromise on both sides. And all this on an island that tradition tells us is ill-suited to such disputes. After all, Cyprus is known as the birthplace of Aphrodite, the ancient goddess of love.