Can European Enlargement Unite Cyprus?

Article published on Feb. 16, 2004
community published
Article published on Feb. 16, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Life in Cyprus changed in April 2003 when the Turkish Cypriot authorities partially lifted restrictions over freedom of movement. European accession is now looming large on the horizon - let's hope that these same authorities do not have a reverse gear.

In April 2003 the gates were opened. Cypriots and the international community as a whole were surprised but the general feeling was that progress should continue. Surprise gradually gave way to tears of happiness. 29 years had passed since 1974 and Cypriots felt that finally they had a chance to be together once more.

Old friends were able to meet up, drink coffee and share memories together. The pre-1974 generation introduced a new generation of children to one other. People were able to visit family graves and cemeteries on ‘the other side’. Two different religions prayed for the same purpose - the establishment of peace without divisive borders. The opening of these “so-called” gates not only reawakened old friendships but also enhanced bi-community activities aiming to push back the strict borders at Pyla and Ledra Palace Hotel.

Breaking down barriers

Cypriots were enjoying not only physical freedom but also mental freedom. Freedom of movement tore down the prejudices that had been present all these years. Workers, artists, doctors and many people from different backgrounds started making contact with people from the other community. Businessmen started initiating common ventures in Cyprus and young people began to participate in common youth associations and institutions. Political parties signed friendship and cooperation protocols. The process seemed and is irreversible. The atmosphere is rich with bi-community multiculturalism.

The opening of these gates did not bring peace to the island but it has created interdependency. This is the result of the pressure that Turkish Cypriots put on Turkey when they demonstrated for “Peace and Accession to the EU”. If the leaders of Turkish Cypriots and Turkey had not been able to respond to the requests of their people they would have lost their legitimacy. But while the leaders of Turkish Cypriots were taking the decision to open the borders to keep some of the support of their people, it was too late because the EU was already moving forward to sign the Accession Treaty with the Republic of Cyprus. The argument that the two communities could not live together was demolished.

The European Union and Cyprus

In December 1999 it was decided at the Helsinki Summit that the Republic of Cyprus could enter the EU without a to the division being a precondition. The ‘acquis communautaire’ would only be applied to the Southern part of the island until a solution could be reached. Therefore, Turkish Cypriots would therefore not be in position to enjoy the benefits derived from accession to the EU. As a result, Turkish Cypriots decided to stay out of the accession procedure completely, while Greek Cypriots await May 2004 to take full advantage of their rights as European citizens.

The EU enlargement process is seen as a big opportunity for all Cypriots. It will guarantee that Turkey will not be able to continue occupying Northern Cyprus and will end the aspirations of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) to legitimise its Government in the North. Our wish, as Turkish Cypriots, is to live under a Federal system on an equal footing with the Greek community and in a spirit of brotherhood.

Tiptoeing towards peace and stability

Now Cyprus has another deadline before it, May 2004. It needs to reach a solution so that the ‘acquis’ can be applied immediately to the entire island. However, even if this deadline is not reached the EU has made it clear that, if a solution is reached afterwards, the Northern part of Cyprus will automatically be immediately included in the Community. A new round of negotiations has begun and if the two sides manage to reach an agreement, the new constitution of a United Cyprus will be put to a referendum before May 2004.

European integration, together with the creation of a common European identity, will safeguard peace on the continent. The European Union has been historically successful in conflict resolution, beginning with the peaceful relationship developed between Germany and France after two world wars. The European Union continued its process of enlargement with the aim of expanding peace and democracy in the European region. It is our belief that the EU is capable of guaranteeing peace in Cyprus with its Community law which defends human rights and fosters a growing economy. The next challenge for the EU could be to ease peaceful relations between Greece and Turkey after Turkey’s accession to the EU.

European enlargement safeguards peace and stability not only in the European region but world-wide. Our support is essential as the beneficiaries of this process are not just Cyprus and Europe but humanity as a whole.