19 November 2004
ESSEN, Germany In a referendum last April 24, Turkish Cypriots voted overwhelmingly for a reunification plan endorsed by the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, while their Greek counterparts rejected it. The voting changed the perception of the two sides of the Cyprus issue and removed an important obstacle to Turkey's eventual membership in the European Union.
Yet while the Greek part of the island was granted membership in the EU in May, Turkish Cypriots, regretfully, have yet to benefit from their positive vote. The EU and the international community need to adapt to the new realities, end the economic and political isolation of the Turkish Cypriots and work to increase their welfare.
Ankara seems to prefer not to raise the issue of the Turkish Cypriots' continuing isolation in the run-up to the December summit that could yield a start date for negotiations on Turkey's EU membership. Expectations in 2005, however, will be different, and the EU - which before the referendum had long accused Turkey and Turkish Cypriots of being the obstacle to a solution in Cyprus - should feel particular responsibility for aiding the Turkish Cypriots.
The following policy recommendations deserve attention:
First, the Turkish part of Cyprus should get two representatives in the European Parliament. Their presence would carry the dialogue over Cyprus to the European public. This provision was part of the Annan reunification plan. But with the rejection of the plan by the Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots have been denied this opportunity.
The second point deals more broadly with the isolation of Turkish Cypriots. Presently, they are denied representation in nearly all international diplomatic, economic and cultural forums. Aside from a small United Nations fund for preserving cultural landmarks, UN agencies - including the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Health Organization, the International Labor Organization and Unicef, among others - cooperate fully with the embargo against the North, confining their grants to the Greek side.
Because of Greek Cypriot objections, the Turkish side of the island does not even have observer status at UN headquarters in New York, nor does the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund recognize it as a candidate for loans. Alongside other economic sanctions, lack of international aid is one reason that per capita income in the North was only $5,700 in 2004, compared with about $18,400 in the South.
Third, Greek Cypriots assert that all ports in the north are illegal, and the international community goes along with that. The International Civil Aviation Organization refuses to allow direct international flights to the Turkish Cypriot airport in Ercan. Commercial air travel to the North is limited to planes flying from Turkey. The added cost and time discourages travel and obviously harms Turkish Cypriot tourism. The ban on international flights should end. Likewise, the port of Famagusta, which has been closed to all vessels by international law, should be reopened.
Finally, the EU has reserved a total of Ôé¼259 million for Northern Cyprus to be used mostly for infrastructure projects and by civil society. However, the distribution of economic aid and provisions for direct trade between the EU and the Turkish Cypriots under special conditions have been tied up after objections by the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot side, which insists on having a say on the use of the funds involved. The Council of the European Union has to find a way to remove the objections of Nicosia.
Thousands of people have suffered and are still suffering because of the Cyprus problem. The Annan plan, though rejected by the Greek side and falling short of Turkish Cypriot expectations, should nevertheless constitute the basis of further negotiations.
The EU has to accept a bigger role in the future of Cyprus talks. Turkish Cypriots have shown their willingness to accept a solution, and they deserve to be rewarded. Further inertia in 2005 will only harm relations between Turkey and Brussels.
Faruk Sen International Herald Tribune
Saturday, November 20, 2004
(Faruk Sen is director of the Foundation Center for Studies on Turkey at the University of Essen-Duisburg.)