Turkey is central to reunifying Cyprus
The northern part of Cyprus has been under occupation since 1974. Finding a solution to what is in fact the part occupation of an EU member state is complicated not only by the internal issues, but by external influences such as Turkey’s position in the Middle East and potential EU membership. Rumours of potential oil reserves off Cyprus have also added to the complexity of the problem.
Negotiations have been lead by the Greek Cypriot President Christofias (elected in 2008) and originally the leader of the Turkish Cypriot Community Mr. Talat. Negotiations between Christofias and Talat were positive in their personal commitment to a solution, their longstanding friendship and mutual political positioning. In April 2010, Mr Eroglu was elected leader of the Turkish Cypriots. He is known to have a hard line nationalistic approach. His party heralds from the party of Mr. Denktash, the past leader of the Turkish Cypriot community, who always supported a divided island.
Negotiations are based on 6 key areas: governance, guarantees with security and settlers, property, economy, participation in the EU and territorial issues. The most controversial point in the Governance debate is the proposed rotating Presidency between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The property issue is complicated by differing starting points for both stake holders. Greeks Cypriots believe the ownership of the property is held by the original owners in 1974 whereas Turkish Cypriots argue ownership is held by the present occupants. The Guarantee issue might also be controversial. In 1974, Cyprus’ independence was guaranteed by the UK, Turkey and Greece. Cyprus EU membership means both the UK and Greece see no need for this guarantee. Turkey still wants be a guarantor and have the right of unilateral intervention. This brings into question Turkey’s intentions, as its keeping one foot in the door. The public have to be convinced that the settlement package is beneficial long term. The harshness of the terms make it a difficult proposition for the Greek Cypriots.
A recent debate in the EU might have a negative effect on the negotiations. This is the opening of trade in Northern Cyprus. In 2008, the Commission stated: “Each state has the sovereign right to determine which ports are open to international transport”. This begs the question: why is the issue coming to Parliament if it violates soverign right of a member states? The EU needs to support the process but not interfere with issues of sovereignty.
EU funded projects such as CMP (Committee of Missing Persons) are examples of collaboration. This is a bi-communal project on the exhumation, identification and return of remains of missing persons from both communities. I view this as a vital process of closure for the past. It’s a humanitarian issue on which collaboration and trust can be built.
An EU grant of 259 million Euros has been ring fenced for projects in northern Cyprus such as road building and school developments. This is in preparation of a settlement. As a MEP, I ask if the talks fail, will the money be returned to the EU? EU assistance in improving the northern Cyprus infrastructure would be better placed once a settlement was agreed.
The importance of religion in the region cannot be underestimated. The occupied territory has many Greek churches which have either been severely damaged or have since been left to fall apart, which does not bode well with the Greek Cypriots. The Turkish Cypriots are by and large a secular muslin population. That is to say they are more liberal than their counterparts on the mainland. This too has caused problems for the Turkish Cypriots.
On a recent fact finding visit to Cyprus I met with NGO’s from both communities. The most striking comment I heard during this visit came from a Turkish Cypriot NGO, who stated: “I am a Cypriot; I just happen to speak Turkish.” This man came to Brussels asking for help as he feared for this life. His feared the Turkish occupying forces. For this reason it is vital all foreign military troops leave. The Turkish Cypriots are being overrun with settlers from the main land and occupying troops.
What will happen in the future, how the peace talking will pan out will depend very much on Turkey’s role. As a Nation they have much to offer not only in terms of their rich history, vibrant peoples and markets but in terms of world peace. Turkish application for EU membership is welcome, but does not come as an open invitation. Turkey needs to show it supports the fundamental principles of the EU, that of human rights and freedom. This can be proved by its withdrawing its forces from the occupied northern Cyprus. Without this move I feel the trust issue will be compromised and unification that much harder.