Author: Rusudan Zabakhidze

Ivane Javakhishvili Tbilisi State University



The conflict between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities which has developed on the island Cyprus located in the Mediterranean Sea is distinguished with its complexity of the interests. Greece and Turkey still have major roles to play in resolving or prolonging conflict between the two ethnic groups. Despite the several attempts to peacefully resolve the dispute, city of Nicosia represents the last capital in Europe that is still divided (Caner, 2015)

During the past decades the United Nations have played an active role in resolving the conflict. Secretary General Kofi Annan has proposed the most reasonable plan so far which suggested the creation of the United Cyprus Republic, covering the island of Cyprus in its entirety except for the British Sovereign Base Areas. This new country was to be a federation of two constituent states – the Greek Cypriot State and the Turkish Cypriot State – joined together by a federal government apparatus. Therefore the plan considered the equal representation of the both sides. In parallel of the UN work in the region, the process of european integration has also had its affect on the development of the conflict. As known, in 2004 the Southern part of the Cyprus has officially acceded to the European Union (Eralp & Berkier, 2005, 178).

The election of moderately soft presidents in both parts of the island has raised a hope for reunification (Morelli, 2016, 16). Despite the fact that the leading role in the negotiation process is taken by the United Nations, it is also equally important to further study the leverages of the European Union which can certainly encourage parties to find the common ground for reunification.

Therefore the aim of the following paper represents to assess the results of the EU policies towards Cyprus and answer the question whether EU has a capacity to increase the chances of reunification.


History Review

The conflict between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots dates back to 19th century when the territory became a subject to political trade between Ottoman Empire and Great Britain. On August 16th, 1960 after a long anti-British campaign which was led by Greek Cypriot fighters National Organization, the Cyprus became an independent state. The dispute between two ethnic groups  escalated in 1963, when Greek Cypriots tried to estrange the Turkish Cypriots from governance. Internal dispute was concluded by the occupation of the North part of the island by Turkey on July 15, 1974. Consequently, the island was split into two parts, between which the connection was fully diminished until 2004 (International Crisis Group,2009, 1).

In 1990s the perspectives have appeared to peacefully resolve the conflict. On one hand this derived from the reason of the Plan suggested by the UN secretary General Kofi Annan. On the other hand the Southern Cyprus started the negotiations for the EU membership.

Getty Images

Getty Images

Kofi Annan Plan suggested a creation of bi-cameral federal state. In 1998 the EU started the official negotiations about the Cyprus membership within the Union. Considering the benefits of the European integration, the desire of joining the EU has spread in the Northern Cyprus as well. To accomplish this goal the citizens of Northern Cyprus went against anti-Annan Plan presidential candidate Rauf Denkas in the election of 2003. It is needed to mention that Greek Cypriots did not share and respect the interests of Turkish Cypriots at that time; instead they were solely conducting the negotiation meetings with EU representatives. The logical consequence of this attitude was demonstrated in the referendum held on April 24, 2004, when 75, 83% of Greek Cypriots rejected and 64,9% of Turkish Cypriots supported the Annan Plan for Reunification (Chadjipadelis &Andreasis, 2007, 5-6).

After several days, on May 1st, 2004 Southern Cyprian Greek Republic has joined the European Union along with 9 other states of Eastern Europe. As it is well-known the EU membership requires meeting to certain conditions set out in Copenhagen Criteria. Along with many other factors, one of the most powerful obstacles on EU membership was definitely the political situation, namely the existing conflict in Cyprus. That’s why Cyprus accession represents the unique case in EU history because regardless the serious dispute in a country, it was still welcomed by European Union to become its member (Pace, 2004, 240). Some experts believe that EU could put a condition in negotiation agenda which would bring the sides together, (Iseri, 141) especially because the interest for unification was already quite visible and strong in the North. This group of scholars consider the accession as the missed opportunity for resolving conflict.


EU in Cyprus Conflict – Catalyst for Conflict Resolution or for more Partition?

geneva_cyprus_talks_1_3_2EU involvement in the conflict is not limited to the responsibilities of a third party only. Since the Greek Cyprus Republic as well as Greece itself are the members of the Union, it makes EU as quite an important not so external actor in the conflict. In order to create a full picture, I find it necessary to discuss the EU relations with Greece and Turkey as well.

Despite the fact that island is geographically not very close to European Continent, historically it has always remained close political, economic and social ties with it. According to Emre Iseri (p 139), after Cyprus gained the independence from Great Britain, and the latter applied for EU membership in 1962, membership of the European Community has become quite attractive to Cypriots as well. The reason behind this interest was a desire not to lose the major trade partner and to maintain the existing tariffs with Great Britain. In 1973 the Association Agreement was jointly supported and signed by Turkish and Greek Cypriots, however after the occupation of Northern part of the island by Turkey in 1974, Greek side unilaterally continued the further negotiations with EC. On July 4, 1990, Southern Cyprus applied for EU membership in the name of the whole population of the island which has further escalated the conflict. EU did not grant the appeal of Northern Cyprus to reject the membership application. However in 1993 EU put the special emphasis on discussing the problems and their possible solutions of the conflict (Kyris, 2012, 89).

As I mentioned above it is also important to overview the positions of Greece and Turkey and their position towards EU. In this case Greece actively used the leverages at hand to advocate for Cyprus accession to the EU; precisely it could veto the whole 2004 enlargement and Turkey’s membership in the Custom’s Union ( Ogozlu, 2002,7).

As a result of Luxemburg Decision in 1997, the negotiation has moved to active phase.  On March 30, 1998 Greek part officially started the membership talks, which was supported by EU internal power-Greece (Eralp & Barkier, 2005, 180). Annan Plan represented an attempt to resolve the conflict by considering the interests of the both disputed parties, while the EU negotiation solely with Southern Part of the island has disappointed many in the North.

According to George Kiris (2012, 91) negotiation talks which was successfully marked with official membership on May 1st, 2004, was based on Neo-Functionalist theory, according to which sectoral integration could create a spill-over effect. In the case of Cyprus the progress achieved in South would make it possible to reunite the island. EU commissioner on Enlargement back then Gunter Verheugen noted that EU membership was the best tool for reunification (Tocci, 2002).

In addition to this EU hoped that Turkey’s desire for closer ties with it and eventual membership could overweight its strategic interests in Cyprus. According to Natali Tocci (2002), from the first glance united Cyprus should have been profitable for Turkey, due to the fact that through participation of the Turkish Cypriots in EU, Turkish would become one of the official languages of the Union. Furthermore, Turkey’s candidacy would gain the additional support from inside. According to the same author, if Annan Plan was enforced, through bi-zone governance the representatives of the Northern Cyprus would participate in the Council of the European Union based on the right granted by Maastricht treaty which does not specify the definition of the Minister who should be eligible to be present at the meetings.

Regardless the mentioned positive expectations, post-accession process has developed in an opposite direction. EU legislation does not cover the territory of the Northern Cyprus. As a result of which the benefits of EU membership have only been accessible to the ones living in the South. Turkish part has become isolated which has worsened the social-economic situation on the island.

George Kiris (2012, 93) states that EU partially considered the effort of the Northern Cyprus to put an end to partition, that’s why Brussels aimed to assist the Turk Cypriots to prosper. This was partly a response to the results of the 2004 Referendum. The actions by EU can be categorized in two dimensions: Financial Aid Regulation, which aimed social, political and economic development and Green Line Regulation which would facilitate the trade between North and South. Direct Trade Regulation ( EU Commission, 2004b) aimed to support the Trade of Northern Cyprus with EU states has been blocked by the veto of Southern Cyprus.

The involvement of EU has increased in the recent years, which tends to be an attempt to improve the previous mistakes. EU represents a bridge between isolated northern Cyprus and the rest of the world. Thanks to the financial and technical assistance from EU, it became possible to enforce quite many reforms. George Kiris (2012, 94) notes that due to the limitations of EU legislation over Northern Cyprus, its actions are mainly targeted at preparing the Turkish part for possible reunification. The Programme for Future Application of Acquis (PFFA) has identified 13 prioritized fields where the progress has been accomplished in environment, agrarian, competition policy and statistical dimensions.

Regardless these efforts EU do not recognize the legitimacy of the Northern Cypriots’ government. The benefits of EU integration still are the motivation for resolving a conflict. However it is also important to say that quite may people have been disappointed due to the inconsistent policies of the EU. If in 2005 71% of the Turkish Cypriots wanted to join the EU, in 2011 the support has dropped to 48% (Kyris, 2012, 94).

Peace-building process and the EU role

The peace-building process to resolve the Cyprus conflict has moved to active phase after the elections in 2013 and 2014. Newly elected president of Cyprus Republic Nicos Anastasiades and the president of Turkish Cyprian Republic Mustafa Akinci have started the meetings for finding the common agreement. The new referendum is anticipated to take place in the spring of 2017 (Morelli, 2016, 13) The US is also actively involved in the negotiation process due to its strategic interests in building a new pipeline on the territory of the island which will decrease the Russian influence over the region (Grigoriadis, 2016,5). The leading role in the peace-building process is taken by the United Nations, however EU has stayed as an important actor which can create the additional incentives for resolving the conflict:

In order to encourage Turkish Cypriots for resolving the conflict, EU needs to convince them that their interests will be considered and protected. Only economic benefits solely cannot be enough for reunification. The main emphasis from Turkish Cypriots is given to the social and political issues. More precisely, they go against the status of ethnic minorities. Instead they ask for equal political representation and security guaranties. According to Vincent Morreli (2016) the main challenge in the negotiation talks remains over the armies located on the island. In response to this, EU could become a non-military guarantor. Replacement of Greek and Turkish militaries by EU mission could build a trust and diminish the feeling of insecurity.

In the article by Natali Tocci published in 2002, she notes that the EU structure enables the representation of the territorial entities of the federal states in the decision making process. EU can give the Greek and Turkish societies a political benefit, because both societies will be able to participate in regional cooperation.

According to George Kiris (2012, 95) one of the most powerful leverages which can be used by EU is abolishing the embargo decided in 1994, which will encourage the economic development of the Northern Cyprus.

The resolution of the Cyprus Conflict is strongly connected to the Turkey’s official position as well. The main leverage with Turkey is still its aspiration to become a member of the European Union. However, a state that does not recognize EU member state – Republic of Cyprus-meets additional obstacles during the negotiation process. Therefore the Turkey’s attitude towards Cyprus greatly affects on the political will of the EU member states (Sivarierol, 2003). Given Turkey’s current internal and external challenges, the moment can be used for achieving certain compromises over Cyprus.

Besides working with external actors EU also need to actively engage in the dialogue with internal ones which will open a foundation for softer politics of Greece and Cyprus. The benefits of reunification will sure be visible by creating more security guarantees, especially with Turkey. Improving Greece’s relations with Turkey also seems to be a great impetus for creating stable political and economic situation. For Southern Cyprus reunification will bring additional economic growth because it will become possible to use country’s full geographic potential and natural resources. As estimated, in case of unification reunification will cause 20% GDP growth, easier mobility and other freedoms guaranteed by EU.


EU’s role as a catalyst to resolve the conflict was relatively visible from 1990 to 2001 until the time when Southern Cyprus was officially invited to join the EU without its northern part. In a contrary to the expectations, European Integration process has caused more tense relations instead of the peaceful talks. This happened due to the position of Greek Cypriots, Turkey’s influence and non-applying the principle of conditionality during the negotiations with North by EU before accession. Regardless this, EU continues to support number of programs which aim to improve the living of the isolated North. The progress achieved in South for instance improved living conditions, social and economic programs still give the motivation to Turkish Cypriots for reunification. However there has to be more done with Southern Cyprus itself considering the outcomes of the referendum held in 2004.  As a result of negotiations it became possible to agree on some of the most important issues; however the most problematic matters such as territorial dispute and property rights still require further dialogue. Reunification of the island will mark the end of the last conflict within the EU and the beginning of the peaceful cohabitation between ethnic Greeks and Turks, use of natural resources and strategic geographic location which will increase island’s economic potential. Amid this benefits EU can give the additional incentives to the parties namely formation of EU as a non-military guarantor for peace in the region, economic growth and improved living conditions.

The recent peace-building process creates the hopeful sign where EU is given an additional chance to further engage in the reconciliation and reunification process on the Cyprus Island.



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