THE ECONOMIST, JANUARY 16TH 2003
The magic of membership
Jan 16th 2003
The lure of the European Union may yet settle Cyprus
BY MAY 2004 the Ledra checkpoint between Cyprus's ethnically Greek and Turkish parts could become the European Union's newest frontier. The crossing is an eerie couple of hundred yards of no-man's-land. To get from one side to the other, you walk past coils of barbed wire, pill-boxes, gun-toting soldiers and virulent propaganda posters. That such a place, redolent of Berlin's Checkpoint Charlie, might mark the border of the new EU is ironic. The Union's enlargement has been promoted under the slogan of ?reuniting Europe?. But while enlargement will indeed bury the era when Europe was divided into eastern and western blocks, it will?if it includes only the Greek part of Cyprus?once again bring a divided country into the Union.
Almost 30 years after Turkey occupied a slab of northern Cyprus in response to a coup on the Greek side, the island is still partitioned between the internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus (the Greek-Cypriot bit) and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognised only by Turkey. Many of the EU 's current members had deep reservations about inviting Greek Cyprus to join their club. They feared that such a move would provoke a diplomatic or even military crisis with Turkey, and pressed ahead only because Greece threatened to veto the whole enlargement package if its Cypriot brethren were kept out, thereby blocking the European ambitions of Poland and others in Central Europe. As negotiations edged forward, diplomats painted lurid scenarios of what might then happen over Cyprus. The EU's official line?that its magical abilities to spread peace and stability wherever it goes could actually be the catalyst for a Cyprus settlement?looked like optimists' moonshine.
Abracadabra in Brussels?
But events may yet vindicate the optimists. Last month the EU formally agreed to admit Cyprus and nine other candidates in 2004. The Turks did not explode in rage. True, despite last-ditch efforts, there is still no clear-cut agreement on the UN's latest plan, which would have let the EU realise its fondest hope and admit a freshly reunited island. But the pressure to reach such a deal is still mounting. The UN, backed by the EU , has set a new deadline of February 28th. Given the legal and political complexities, it will probably be missed. But the momentum to clinch a deal pretty soon is unmistakable?and is largely due to the economic and political lure of joining the EU.
The Turkish-Cypriot government, in particular its 78-year-old leader, Rauf Denktash, is still resisting the UN plan, which, it says, will prompt a mass displacement of Turkish-Cypriots and the ?Hellenisation? of the island. But Mr Denktash is coming under unprecedented pressure, both from his own people in northern Cyprus and from the new government in Turkey itself. Previous ones have invariably backed northern Cyprus to the hilt, for patriotic and strategic reasons. But the new one, led by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is clearly worried that a failure to achieve peace in Cyprus will end up blocking Turkey's own ambitions to join the EU . Why, mutter some Turkish diplomats, should 200,000 or so people in northern Cyprus scupper the European ambitions of 69m-plus Turks?
That question becomes even more pointed with the growing evidence that the Turkish-Cypriots themselves no longer applaud Mr Denktash's obduracy. On January 14th, as many as 50,000 of them demonstrated in favour of a settlement based on the UN's plan, the second such display in a month. Mr Denktash's government is rattled. Drawing deeply on his cigarette, Tahsin Ertugruloglu, the Turkish-Cypriots' foreign minister, leans over to a foreign reporter. ?I don't want to sound conspiratorial,? he says, ?but these demonstrators are being manipulated by foreign powers.?
Over in the offices of Kibris , the statelet's main newspaper, they disagree. Suleyman Erguclu, its editor, was a Denktash loyalist for many years. But, he says, the grand old man lost his?and most people's?support in the Turkish part of the island when he failed to address the UN plan seriously.
Turkish-Cypriots see the Greek-Cypriots' greater prosperity and opportunities, and realise that the gap would only widen if Greek Cyprus joined the Union without them. They fear that, if they do not grab the chance of a settlement now, it may slip away, especially as the Greek-Cypriots may well be tempted to harden their terms once they are already inside the club. Asked what future there could be for a northern Cyprus left outside it, Mr Erguclu replies bleakly: ?Total darkness.?
Come on in!
The wider impact of a Cyprus settlement on Europe would be enormous. It could open the door to lasting reconciliation between Turkey and Greece, in the corner of the world where Christian Europe rubs up against the Islamic world. It is not just the new Turkish government that seems eager to grasp this chance. Greece is just as keen. Instead of seeing EU membership for Greek Cyprus only as a chance to humiliate or thwart Turkey, the Greek government is avoiding triumphalism and has become one of the most ardent advocates of eventual Turkish membership of the EU. George Papandreou, the Greek foreign minister, sees Franco-German reconciliation within the EU as a model for Greece and Turkey.
Of course, a great deal must still happen before the EU can claim to have notched up such a peacemaking triumph. Turkey's generals are a conservative bunch and may yet veto any effort by Mr Erdogan's government to squeeze Mr Denktash into making a deal. All the same, the fact that such an outcome is now conceivable is testimony to how the prospect of EU membership can mould countries' behaviour. EU officials sometimes lament that their Union has only one cudgel in its diplomatic bag: the offer of membership. Maybe. But it is one hell of a cudgel.
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