Events

EU Enlargement: The Catalyst for Peace and Stability in the Eastern Mediterranean

June 13, 2003 // 12:00am

"EU Enlargement: The Catalyst for Peace and Stability in the Eastern Mediterranean,"
Remarks by George Iacovou
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Cyprus

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Allow me to express my sincere gratitude both to CSIS for hosting this morning's forum and to the Western Policy Center for its important contribution in organizing this event.

I have always been struck by the sense of urgency that prevails in Washington. This sense of urgency, though, seems to be more powerful these days than at any time I can recall. This is true on a number of issues, including efforts to resolve the Cyprus problem.

Relations between Cyprus and the United States have never been better. Our friendly ties have always been based on shared values and interests, such as democracy, the rule of law, free markets, free trade and stability in the southeastern Mediterranean region. Our partnership for stability, peace and economic growth continues to strengthen and deepen. Yet, since the tragic events of September 11, that relationship has moved to a new level. Cyprus was among the first nations to express its solidarity with the American people. Since then, we have taken many concrete and active steps in the war against terrorism in close cooperation with the United States.
The US has long been very supportive of the issues of paramount interest and concern to Cyprus, particularly our accession to the European Union and the reunification of our country.

The Bush Administration, like its predecessors, remains actively involved in support of the UN efforts in Cyprus and the US Congress has consistently advocated a just and lasting settlement of the Cyprus problem on the basis of international law, making clear that the current unacceptable status quo cannot be sustained. I take this opportunity to express once again publicly our appreciation for this support.

I will speak today about the significance of EU enlargement, including the accession of Cyprus to the European Union and how it can serve as a catalyst for peace and stability in the Eastern Mediterranean region. This is, of course, a region of utmost interest to the United States – as President Bush demonstrated with his recent journey in the quest for peace in the Middle East. Indeed, the President's ambitious itinerary, covering parts of Europe that used to be designated as "east"and "west,"as well as the Middle East, is illustrative of the still-emerging world order that Cyprus finds itself at the center of.
The accession of Cyprus to the EU, while of critical importance to the Cypriot people, is also part of a far larger and constructive dynamic affecting the stability of the region as whole. EU enlargement is a cornerstone of a post-Cold War era of peace, security and cooperation extending to Europe's eastern and southern flanks. A united and free Europe, a goal that the U.S. has long supported, offers the promise of consolidating the values of democracy, individual rights, free markets and the rule of law in an ever-growing sphere. It also represents a continuing strong basis for a transatlantic relationship characterized by complimentarity rather than antagonism.

The world is changing. New modes and structures of international cooperation are being developed to deal with everything from the war against international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, to AIDS, protecting the environment and regulating commerce in the information age. Yet, sadly, on our idyllic island in the Mediterranean, one thing hasn't changed: since 1974, Turkey has maintained an illegal military occupation of 37 percent of our territory, in violation of the UN Charter and dozens of Security Council resolutions.

As you know, for years the international community, with the strong support and leadership of the U.S., has favored an approach for resolving the Cyprus Problem based on a state of Cyprus with a single sovereignty, single international personality and a single citizenship, in a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. This framework has been reiterated in numerous Security Council Resolutions.

In light of Cyprus' impending EU accession, the UN stepped up its efforts to achieve a settlement that would enable a reunified Cyprus to join the EU. If, however, by the time that Cyprus joins the EU in May 2004 the Turkish occupation still persists, the EU benefits will be suspended in the occupied areas. Last November, the UN Secretary General presented a comprehensive peace plan, which he hoped would serve as a basis for agreement. The Secretary General engaged in direct, personal diplomacy, inviting President Tassos Papadopoulos and Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash, to join him at The Hague for intense negotiations. His goal was to agree to put the UN Plan for adoption in separate, simultaneous referenda. President Papadopoulos consented to put an agreed version of the UN Plan to a referendum. Mr. Denktash said he did not accept the Annan Plan at all, not even as a basis for negotiations – thus leading to the collapse of the talks. After the talks he described the Annan Plan as a "crime against humanity".

Despite this disappointing outcome, the Secretary General stressed that his Plan remained on the table. President Papadopoulos made clear that he was still committed to achieving a solution the soonest possible and hopefully before May 2004.

As discouraging as the Turkish response was, this period did witness one positive and unprecedented development in the occupied part of Cyprus: large-scale demonstrations – numbering in the tens of thousands – by Turkish Cypriots who wanted their leader to accept the UN framework. It is clear that our Turkish Cypriot countrymen were saying that they were fed up with being held back in international isolation and economic decline. They wanted to become part of the European family along with their compatriots on the island we all share.

Turkey's ongoing aggression against Cyprus is something that belongs to another era, a hold-over from the worst days of the 20th century. It is time for Turkey's occupation troops to leave, and for the Cyprus Problem to be resolved. Turkey must be held accountable for the persistent failure to resolve this situation. We cannot keep putting all of the blame on Mr. Denktash while absolving the occupying power. Following last year's elections in Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan's rhetoric seemed to suggest the possibility of new thinking on Cyprus. Thus far, it has not materialized. Half measures, with questionable motives, will not do. Turkey must recognize just how untenable its position would be as an occupation force in an EU member country.
Ladies and Gentlemen, April 16, 2003, was a date of profound historical importance for Cypriots and for all Europeans. The signing of the EU Accession Treaty at the Acropolis on that day was full of symbolic meaning and substantive importance, taking place at a site that conjures up images of the birth of democracy and Western civilization. The EU, in the greatest single enlargement in its history, welcomed as new member states Cyprus and nine other countries. For Cypriots it was the culmination of a long-held dream.

Cyprus's EU membership is mutually beneficial: clearly, it will provide benefits for Cyprus; at the same time, it will serve to expand the global reach of the EU, while enhancing regional stability and integration. In addition to giving Europe a stronger foothold in the Eastern Mediterranean region, Cyprus brings to the Union a thriving economy, a significant international maritime reach, and a strong partner in the international campaign against terrorism. Harder to quantify, but of invaluable worth in today's multi-cultural world, we bring to the EU a unique ethnic and cultural mosaic and an understanding of how nations can find commonality in their diversity.

There is a truism that, for better or for worse, geography is destiny. For Cyprus, this has been the case virtually since the beginning of recorded history. Located at the crossroads of three continents, Cyprus has historically been a center of trade, and a meeting place for different cultures. Now, fast-forward to the 21st century: from the Western perspective, Cyprus is the gateway to the Middle East, and the guardian of the southern and eastern flank of Europe,while, from the viewpoint of Middle Eastern countries, Cyprus can be a vital link to the West.

The benefits of this visionary extension of Europe can also advance important U.S. policy goals in the region. Given its strong relations with the Middle East including Israel, and North Africa, Cyprus is now poised to contribute to the political, social and economic development of the entire region. For the U.S., Cyprus will continue to be a reliable friend and partner in its efforts to promote stability and development in this part of the world – with the enhanced status and clout that EU membership will afford.

With a highly vibrant economy and 2.6 million tourists, approximately four times the population of the island, and an active international community that amounts to approximately 2.5% of the entire population, Cyprus is a multicultural, diverse, cosmopolitan center of economic and social progress in the Eastern Mediterranean and a regional business hub where the cultures of East and West meet and interact constructively, as they have done for centuries. The regional role of Cyprus will become even more pivotal once our country is reunited.
The accession of Cyprus to the EU can serve as a catalyst not only for the solution of the Cyprus problem, but also for the role of Cyprus as the European outpost in the region.

Cyprus's role in the war against terrorism, its instrumental role in the de-escalation of the tense situation between the Palestinians and the Israelis at the Church of Nativity last year, its role as a base of the UN inspections for Iraq and currently its role as a regional coordination center for the UN humanitarian mission in Iraq, provide a partial view of the added value that Cyprus brings to the regional political map. Cyprus's role in this respect will be enhanced and cemented through our active participation in the organs and activities of the European Union. Through the assumption of a leadership position in the framework of the Euro Mediterranean partnership, the Republic of Cyprus will actively seek a prominent position in facilitating peace and political stability in the region while using its diverse know-how and multifaceted links with the countries in the area to contribute to their economic and social development.

The Euro-Mediterranean Partnership, or the Barcelona process as it is also known, is a crucial factor for the stability and prosperity of the region it embraces, the region Cyprus finds itself at the very heart of. This has become more apparent now that the EU is a family of 25, and the Partnership has 35 participant states, covering an even larger geographic region and encompassing an even more diverse group of states with differing backgrounds, cultures and political aspirations. It is particularly important that the eight new EU members from Eastern Europe, which did not traditionally focus on the Mediterranean, are now being incorporated into this network and are becoming stakeholders in its future stability. The accession of Cyprus and Malta to the EU and this increased involvement of the other new members will serve to counterbalance the EU expansion to the East, thus maintaining intact the all important Mediterranean dimension of the European Union.

We believe the Partnership is the ideal forum to incorporate a process for fostering an ongoing dialogue between cultures and civilizations. Cyprus brings unique credentials for this dialogue and is in a unique position to assist in bridging any existing gaps and creating momentum for a more integrated approach to the Partnership.

Cyprus's integration into the EU can also ultimately serve to continue the trend toward steady improvement in the relationship between NATO allies Greece and Turkey. Greece has championed Turkey's EU membership. My friend George Papandreou, the Foreign Minister of Greece, has expressed the view that Franco-German reconciliation within the EU can serve as a model for Greece and Turkey. That may be difficult to imagine now, but just remember how unlikely rapprochement between France and Germany must have seemed a half-century ago – and how quickly it took hold. Of course, the resolution of the Cyprus question figures prominently in this important Greco-Turkish equation. The prospect of further economic co-operation and development between Greece, Cyprus and Turkey, three close neighbors must not be underestimated as a source of further political stability and prosperity for our peoples.
Carl Bildt, the former UN Special Envoy for the Balkans, was quoted in National Review earlier this year as stating that a settlement for Cyprus "concerns not only a divided island in the eastern Mediterranean, or the relationship between two important countries straddling the divide between Europe and Middle East. It is of key importance in the quest for peace and stability in the entire post-Ottoman area that stretches from Bihac in Bosnia in the north-west to Basra at the Persian Gulf in the south-east."

In words that have resonance in many of the world's trouble spots, such as Northern Ireland, the Balkans and the Middle East, our President said: "We dare to walk along with our Turkish Cypriot compatriots the road to reconciliation, living together in peace and common prosperity, in a united homeland." And that remains our goal.

We look forward to the day when our Turkish Cypriot compatriots will be fully reintegrated with the rest of Cyprus. We consider the Republic of Turkey to be an important neighbor with whom we desire normalized relations, political, economic and cultural. Indeed, resolution of the Cyprus problem will enhance Turkey's own EU prospects. Among the provisions that the EU has always attached to Turkey's candidacy is that Turkey act in good faith to resolve the Cyprus issue. Given the difficulty of meeting some of the other requirements, ending the occupation of Cyprus would actually seem to be one of the easier steps for Turkey to take. It would clearly generate enormous good will within the EU, and help to smooth out the process of addressing the other issues.

The U.S. has long supported Turkey's EU candidacy. But at this particular juncture, in a post Iraq – war situation whereby the US – Turkey relationship has come out severely traumatized it has become, objectively, more difficult to promote Turkey's candidacy. Helping resolve the Cyprus problem will undoubtedly make Turkey's accession path easier and the job of those trying to help her simpler.

Mindful of the urgency to find a solution to the division of our island, and despite the ongoing Turkish occupation, the Government of Cyprus has moved forward with an ambitious agenda, in cooperation with the EU, to help the Turkish Cypriots and improve the living standards in this region that has remained isolated and under-developed because of the retrograde policies of their leadership and Ankara. This package, introduced on April 30, includes a wide range of political, social, humanitarian, educational, and economic measures that will enhance the ability of Turkish Cypriots to enjoy the benefits that the Republic of Cyprus offers to its citizens and the rights and benefits of European Union membership.

Since the end of April, much of the international media coverage of Cyprus has focused on the opening of the great divide and the ensuing crossing of the line by Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots alike – conjuring the inevitable Berlin Wall analogies. The decision by the occupation regime to partially lift the illegal restrictions on the freedom of movement across the barbed-wire of the UN buffer zone appeared calculated to present the Turkish occupation regime as a separate and sovereign entity.
Mr. Denktash has received plaudits for opening the artificially created divide of his and Ankara's own making. But, ironically, the move has inadvertently helped to illustrate the bankruptcy and irrelevance of the Turkish position. Given the opportunity, Cypriots have "voted with their feet" to visit parts of the island closed off to them and to greet their compatriots with characteristic Cypriot warmth and friendship. Since the partial opening of the UN cease-fire line on April 23, 2003, more than 350,000 Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots – nearly half of the island's total population – have crossed the line to visit homes and areas of their own country that were inaccessible to them for nearly 30 years.

It must be stressed that neither the government's new measures nor the partial lifting of restrictions on freedom of movement should be seen as a substitute for the efforts to reach a comprehensive political settlement. The Government of Cyprus firmly believes that the solution to the Cyprus Problem must be sought through negotiations conducted on the basis of the Annan Plan. On this, our position is consistent with public opinion in both communities. Unfortunately, this position has still not been embraced by Mr. Denktash or by Ankara.

We recognize that any eventual solution will be a compromise, but we firmly believe that the compromise cannot be such that it will work against the functionality of the solution. If the solution is not functional, it cannot be viable, and if not viable it will not be permanent. It remains our primary objective to celebrate on May 1st 2004 the official accession of a re-united Cyprus and the expectation that a reunited people will join hands to face the challenges ahead. By taking the bold step of EU membership, with strong American encouragement, Cyprus proved that, while we are proud of our vast history, we refused to be trapped by the recent past. Let us hope that Turkish leaders will show themselves equally willing to break free of the trap that they have set for themselves.

A united Cyprus within Europe can only serve as a beacon of stability, security, prosperity and multi-ethnic, multireligious harmony, showing the way to the entire Eastern Mediterranean Region.

Summary of Q & A Session:

During the question and answer period that followed Mr. Iacovou's presentation, the minister made the following remarks:

According to the presidency conclusions of the EU's December 1999 Luxembourg summit, where Turkey was named an EU candidate, resolution of the Cyprus problem is not a pre-condition for Turkey's accession to the European Union. The conclusions stated simply that Turkey must use its influence to assist the United Nations in achieving a Cyprus solution.

However, EU leaders view the situation differently. European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen stated that it would be impossible for an EU applicant not to recognize a member state of the bloc and for such an applicant to occupy 37 percent of a member state. In practice, Turkey cannot accede to the European Union unless the Cyprus problem is resolved.

Turkey is the only country that recognizes the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and, by implication, it has "de-recognized" the Republic of Cyprus. However, in searching for a reunification settlement, Cyprus has not created obstacles regarding Turkey's path toward the European Union. In fact, the Cyprus government wants to integrate Turkey into the EU and considers such integration to be in Cyprus's interests. Turkey forbids the Cyprus-flagged fleet to call at its ports, which is a violation of Ankara's obligations toward the European Union.

Although Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash's decision to allow movement across the Green Line constituted only a partial removal of a 29-year illegal restriction, the massive response by the public made it important. Denktash did not have a long-range political motive in opening the Green Line. The Cyprus government had already announced that it would implement measures to integrate Turkish Cypriots into society and the economy. Cyprus had consulted with the EU concerning these measures and the measures that the EU was intending to announce to help the Turkish Cypriots. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul visited northern Cyprus and suggested that the Turkish Cypriots needed to do something in view of their rejection of the Annan settlement plan and the fact that measures were to be implemented by the Cyprus government and the EU.

The positive response by the people of Cyprus to the opening of the Green Line disproves Denktash's long-held view that it should remain closed to avoid clashes between the two communities. The differences that exist between the two communities have been exaggerated. There is a strong sense of Cypriot identity, and the affinity between the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots has been apparent as people have crossed the Green Line in both directions. There is great potential for the reintegration of the two communities.

The security of Cyprus is a primary concern. EU accession will give Cyprus a measure of security. The Cyprus government has called for the demilitarization of the country. Eliminating all weapons would take care of internal security concerns. The Annan plan provides for demilitarization and partly adopts the Cyprus government's proposal for deployment of a U.N. force in the country that would have a deterrent capability.

In settlement negotiations, Greece has proposed that the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot sides should each have 1,500 troops, while Turkey has proposed 15,000 on each side.

Experts & Staff

  • Christian F. Ostermann // Director, History and Public Policy Program; Global Europe; Cold War International History Project; North Korea Documentation Project; Nuclear Proliferation International History Project
  • Emily R. Buss // Program Assistant

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