Turkish Cypriots Kept out in the Cold

The Greek Cypriots may have voted no to reunification, but they will still be joining the EU on 1 May. The outcome of the referendum not only casts a dark shadow over Cyprus's accession to the EU, it is also a disaster for European foreign policy, says Rainer Sollich.

photo: AP
Cyprus - a divided island nation joining unified Europe

​​What a strange twist in the Cyprus tale: for decades, it was the Turks who blocked all moves towards reunification.

But when it came to the crunch, it was actually the Greek Cypriots who threw a spanner in the works: 65 per cent of Turkish Cypriots voted yes to reunification and an overwhelming 75 per cent of Greek Cypriots voted no.

Too many concessions to Turkish neighbours?

And why? Because most of Cyprus's Greek population is convinced that the UN's reunification plan made too many concessions to their Turkish neighbours.

It also had something to do with the fact that some Greek Cypriots have obviously still not come to the realisation that Cyprus is not a purely Greek island and that it is in fact home to a strong Turkish minority that has a right to have a say on the island.

The consequences of the two Cypriot referenda are as absurd as they are unjust: while the Greek Cypriots can sally forth into the European Union on 1 May despite their blockade to reunification, the Turkish Cypriots are left out in the cold even though they did as the EU requested them to do and voted yes.

Accusations of "deceit" and "media censorship"

The government of the Greek part of the island has disappointed the EU Commission so gravely that words like "deceit" and "media censorship" were to be heard resounding through the halls of Brussels yesterday.

And let's face it, there is little cause for rejoicing: the outcome of the referendum in Cyprus is a disaster for European foreign policy. The fact that it did not make the reunification of Cyprus a precondition for accession has now come back to haunt the EU.

Instead, the Europeans allowed themselves to be press-ganged by the government in Athens, which threatened to veto the accession of Eastern European countries unless the southern part of Cyprus was also allowed to join.

And Athens got exactly what it wanted; with the result that the EU is now opening its borders to a country with an unresolved civil conflict and an ugly border that splits the country in two. Cyprus: Europe's last divided nation.

No punishment for "no-sayers"

But nothing can be done about that now. And that is why it is important that those who spoke out in favour of reunification will not also be punished for doing so. Despite major domestic resistance, both Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots have played a highly constructive role in this whole affair.

This should not be forgotten when at the end of the year, the EU decides whether or not it will start accession negotiations with Ankara. And above all, while the Turkish part of Cyprus should not be formally recognised as a state, the time has certainly come to lift the trade embargo and end international isolation as swiftly as possible.

Not only because any other course of action would be highly unjust, but because all hopes of reunification would otherwise be buried once and for all. The solution to the Cyprus problem is now an EU responsibility.

Rainer Sollich


Translation from German: Aingela Flanagan