The application for accession by the Greek Cypriot administration to the European Communities dates back to 1990. In 1993, the European Commission judged positively the feasibility of the accession of Cyprus to the EC but initially suggested that the questions of the division of the island was to be resolved first. It was felt at that stage that in the absence of a prior settlement, the application of Community law and the respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms could not be guaranteed on the whole of the island. Also, accession without settlement would lead to inequality. Although one part of the island would experience a beneficial economic effect, the economic disparity of the two parts would increase.
The European Council therefore initially agreed with the Commission that accession talks should be postponed. However, in February 1995 it changed its attitude and resolved that negotiations could begin six months after the conclusion of the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference. It is no secret that this change of heart was brought about by the Greek threat to veto EU enlargement towards Eastern Europe if Cyprus was not taken on board first.5 From then on, the European Council envisaged the speedy accession of the whole island, and started to press for the inclusion of representatives of the Turkish Cypriots in the negotiations in order to bring it about. This offer was not taken up by the latter, who could envisage participating in the negotiations only as the representatives of the TRNC, and who even had difficulty assuming that the Greek Cypriot side could legitimately claim to represent any part of the island at all. In spite of this the EU, in March 1998, opened accession negotiations with the (internationally recognised) government of the Republic of Cyprus. As a result, the Turkish Cypriots have until now very much remained on the sideline.
Was the opening of accession negotiations a mistake of judgement?6 It was obviously hoped that the prospective of entry into the EU would be an incentive to a political settlement.7 However, there is no sign whatsoever that this will come true. In fact, there is very little scope now for the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots to shift their positions. The start of accession talks hardly encourages the Greek Cypriot side to compromise in the search for a solution to the Cyprus dispute. The offer of entry negotiations enhances the economic and strategic outlook of the South as well as improving their diplomatic position. It suggests that what is called the Cyprus problem is about a Turkish minority challenging the authority of a legitimate Cypriot government under the protection of a neighbouring occupying force, Turkey.
In reality, the question is at least as much, if not more, about the Turkish islanders calling for the right of self-determination and freedom from the dictates of a Greek Cypriot community conveniently legitimising itself with reference to a 1960 constitution aiming at (but in itself incapable of) protecting both communities,8 and sanctioned by an international community apparently more committed to territorial integrity than to security and coexistence among nations. Witness the conflict in Kosovo, which international law is ill-equipped to settle. If Cyprus accedes to the EU without a settlement being reached, the international risks in the area will be increased.9 The EU, nor indeed anyone else should allow this to happen.
There is little doubt that accession to the EU is advantageous for the island. It is broadly in conformity with the basic philosophy underlying the EU, which proclaims the integration of Europe in the interest of peaceful coexistence and welfare. But the quality of the accession will be as important as its timing. A failure by policy-makers adequately to recognise the stakes or to act accordingly - whether for lack of interest, vision, or leadership - can lead to serious political errors, which may even cost lives.
Everybody will readily recognise that the matters are far from straightforward, however. The EU and the TRNC are both "irregulars" on the international plane; both are in search of their own identity and profile, although admittedly, not in the same way. The fact that both entities are relatively new on the international scene does not make things simpler. Their sometimes uneasy existence in the twilight of international law or, if one prefers, the dawn of a new area, makes the future difficult to predict. What is worse, is that most people seem to be little informed about the issues involved. Among policy makers, some seem to lack interest, while others seem too biased or too frustrated even to want to think up creative solutions. The general public in Europe seems to care little about EU Mediterranean policy; European political parties that consider the matter more seriously do not exist. And yet the current situation is unacceptable.
5 On the Greek stance see further Nugent, Neill, "EU Enlargement and the Cyprus Problem", 38 Journal of Common Market Studies (2000), 131-50, at 144.
6 On this matter see Prodromou, Elizabeth, "Reintegrating Cyprus: The Need for a New Approach", 40 Survival (1998), No. 3, 5-24, at 5. See also Kramer, Heinz, "The Cyprus Problem and European Security", 39 Survival (1997), 16-32.
7 See, e.g., Kasoulides, Ioannis, Cyprus and its Accession to the European Union. Zentrum für Europäische Integrationsforschung. Discussion Paper C47, 1999, and Nugent, supra, note 5.
8 Ehrlich, Thomas, International Crisis and the Role of Law. Cyprus 1958-1967, OUP, Oxford 1974, at p. 34 judged the constitution as follows: "Despite substantial weaknesses, the settlement did represent an imaginative resolution of many difficult problems. Given patience and spirit if compromise on each side, it might have worked. It is not a model of draftsmanship; but, viewing the circumstances, no more could have been expected. There was general agreement, however, that substantial goodwill would be needed on the part of both communities to make the agreements work." On the abrogation of the Zurich and London Agreements, see e.g., Reddaway, John, Burdened with Cyprus - The British Connection. Rustem and Weidenfeld & Nicholson, London 1986.
9 See, e.g., Kramer, supra, note 6; Nugent, supra, note 5; Mavratsas, Caesar, "Greek-Cypriot Political Culture and the Prospect of European Union Membership: a Worst-Case Scenario", 10 The Cyprus Review (1998), 67-76; Brewin, Christopher, "Turkey, Greece and the European Union", in: Clement H. Dodd (ed.), Cyprus the Need for New Perspectives, Eothen Press, Huntingdon, 1999, 148-73.