By Dick Leonard. Source: European Voice 18 march 2005
The EU heads of state and government, who meet again at their spring summit in Brussels next week, are extremely unlikely to hold a secret ballot to determine who is their least popular colleague. Yet if they did, there is little no doubt that Cyprus President Tassos Papadopoulos would be the universal choice.
Although they treat him with due courtesy, there is a deep sense of resentment against him. They were appalled at his conduct during last year's Greek Cypriot referendum on the Annan plan, when he waged a highly demagogic campaign, flanked by an unholy alliance of the Communist Party and the most obscurantist elements of the Orthodox Church, wrecking the prospect of a reunited island joining the European Union last May.
On 24 April, the Greek Cypriot voters rejected the United Nations plan by a three-to-one majority, an "astonishing result", as UN representative Alvaro de Soto described it in European Voice last week, while Turkish Cypriots accepted it by two-to-one.
Spurred by their sense of outrage, the Council of Ministers took a speedy decision to reward the Turks for their more co-operative stance, and to try to reduce the isolation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which remains unrecognised internationally. It decided, within two days of the referenda, to grant €259m in economic aid, which was the amount which would have been spent by the EU in the Turkish sector if reunification had gone through, and to open up the Union to Turkish Cypriot exports.
The Commission was invited to draw up detailed regulations to implement these decisions, which it succeeded in doing by early July last year. Unfortunately, one, at least, of the regulations needs to be approved by unanimous vote of the Council of Ministers, and when the Dutch presidency sought to put them on the Council agenda last autumn it met with resolute obstruction from the Cyprus government.
Not wishing to provoke an open row, it held its hand, and the incoming Luxembourg presidency is undecided how to deal with the issue. It has not made the agenda of any of the three Foreign Affairs Councils held so far this year.
In the face of this hostile reaction by the Greek Cypriot government, the Turkish Cypriots continue to show moderation. In the elections for their Parliament last month, the vote for the Republican Turkish Party (CTP), of Mehmet Ali Talat, the pro-settlement Prime Minister, shot up, leaving him only one seat short of an overall majority, and greatly strengthening his position within the coalition government.
Moreover, the veteran President, Rauf Denktas, who for many years successfully aborted negotiations with the Greek Cypriots, has finally decided to give up, and will not be a candidate in the presidential election in April. Talat is the hot favourite to succeed him, and this should further reinforce his authority.
In a recent visit to Brussels, Talat made it clear that his government was extremely flexible in its approach to possible renewed talks with the Greek Cypriots. He called on Papadopoulos to prepare a list of the alterations he would like to the Annan Plan and submit them to the UN Secretary-general in the hope of resuming negotiations.
So far, the Cypriot President has not responded to Talat's offer, and, indeed, told the Cyprus newspaper Simerini that, while congratulating Talat on his re-election as Prime Minister, he believed that "he was seeking division of the island rather than reunification, as he claims".
In Cyprus itself, his government resolutely refuses to countenance any dealings with Talat's administration, even in the pursuit of criminal justice. One particularly blatant example, to which Talat drew attention at a meeting organised by the European Policy Centre during his Brussels visit, was the Elmas Guzelyurtlu murder case.
This was a particularly gruesome affair, in which Guzelyurtlu, a Turkish Cypriot living south of the 'Green line' dividing the island, was slain in his home, together with his wife and daughter, early in January. Eight suspects, all Turkish Cypriots, were arrested by the Turkish Cypriot authorities, but the Greek Cypriot police, who had collected evidence implicating the eight, refused to hand it over to a Turkish Cypriot court.
In the absence of this evidence, the suspects were released on 9 February, though investigations are continuing.
Not all the Greek Cypriot parties are as hostile to dealing with the Turkish Cypriots as Papadopoulos. At a rare meeting, in Nicosia on 9 March, between political parties from the two sides, Mikhalis Papetrou, from the opposition United Democrats, welcomed Talat's approach, saying that he had "expressed readiness for a Cyprus settlement… and therefore the ball is in our court. We must tell the UN secretary-general what changes we want to his plan".
In retrospect, it can be seen that the EU made a fatal misjudgement in agreeing in advance to the entry of the Greek Cypriot Republic in the absence of agreement on the reunification of the island. Its bargaining power with the Cyprus government is now much less, now that the carrot of EU membership is no longer being dangled, but has been granted.
Nor can much economic pressure be applied, as Cyprus is one of the more prosperous of EU members and is much less dependent than other new member states on aid from the structural funds. It should, however, be made clear to Papadopoulos that his continued obstructionism is against the spirit of EU membership, and that he can expect no favours from his colleagues the next time his country runs into difficulties.
It is also to be hoped that the Greek government, anxious to maintain its greatly improved relations with Turkey, will use what influence it has with the Cyprus government to act more reasonably, both with regard to the stalled EU aid and trade package and the possible rescue of the Annan plan. If Papadopoulos continues on his present course, he may well eventually end up with the outcome he most fears: the incorporation of Northern Cyprus into Turkey.
Dick Leonard was formerly Assistant Editor of The Economist. His latest book, A Century of Premiers: Salisbury to Blair, has just been published.