It’s a problem that taints Nicosia, embarrasses the EU and which will no doubt resurface at some point in the next six months.
As Cyprus takes up the presidency at the Council of the EU for the second half of 2012, the Cypriot problem remains unresolved. This will not help ameliorate the already strained relations between Cyprus and Turkey.
Gaining independence in 1960, Cyprus hosts two opposing communities, Greek to the south, and a Turkish minority to the north. Following several decades of conflict and tensions, an attempted Greek coup, the intervention and ongoing occupation of the north of the island by Turkish forces, the island remains partitioned and relations strained. Despite the reinstallation of Makarios III as head of state of the island in 1974, Rauf Dentkas, the then Vice-President claimed, from 1983 to have founded the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), a separate country which is not recognised in the international community, except for by Turkey.
The TRNC remains one of the biggest issues for the island and a source of difficulty for the European Union. Firstly on an economic and diplomatic level, as this weighs heavily on the relationship between Cyprus and Turkey, who wishes to become a member of the EU. Secondly on a practical level, as the TRNC has no legal ground on the international scene and is therefore not a member of the EU.
This peculiarity has a huge impact on Cypriots in the north as juristically speaking they do not hold European citizenship. As Matt Ozman, 29, explained in his web-documentary “My European Dream” last year, there are huge constraints limiting northern Cypriots from travelling within the EU, in particular in the Schengen Area.
Northern Cyprus is thus like a stone in the shoe of the European Union which can’t be removed until a solution to the Cypriot problem is found. Several meetings between the two communities have been organized by the UN in hopes of reunifying the island. In 2004 the Secretary General, Koffi Annan, proposed a referendum to unite the two countries within the framework of an impending adhesion to the EU. This was approved by 65% of Turks on the island but rejected by more than 75% of Greek community, which judged Annan’s proposal to be too biased towards the Turkish community.
Since then, the Cypriot problem has stalled and the Greeks and the Turkish remain ardent in their opposing positions.
The EU knows full well that the problem facing Cyprus will not solve itself without Nicosia and Ankara finding a common talking ground. As such, the Cypriot presidency could hold the golden opportunity to relaunch talks and find a resolution to the conflict. This would be great for the EU but even more so for Matt and the rest of the Turkish Cypriots who dream of only one thing; considering themselves fully European.
Translation: Jess Bethom