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Mediterranean Quarterly 14.1 (2003) 42-66

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The Cyprus Problem:
Accession to the EU and Broader Implications

Andreas Theophanous

The European Council meeting at Helsinki in December 1999 made two important decisions concerning Cyprus and Turkey: that the solution of the Cyprus problem would not be a precondition for Cyprus's accession to the European Union and that Turkey should be considered as a candidate for membership in the EU. Following these decisions, there has been an increasing interest on the part of the EU and the United States to work toward a resolution of the Cyprus issue or at least achieve substantial progress by the time of the next enlargement of the EU. Indeed, the Helsinki summit and the overall agreements reached in relation to Greece, Turkey, and Cyprus raised expectations for a sustained positive climate between Greece and Turkey and a breakthrough on the Cyprus problem.

Nevertheless, developments through summer 2002 do not allow much room for optimism. It is understandable why both the United States and the EU feel the urgency for a breakthrough, but some preconditions must be met before a solution can be found and, more important, sustained.

As of autumn 2002, a new government crisis in Turkey and the likelihood of general elections suggest, among other things, that there cannot be substantial and meaningful talks for a breakthrough in the Cyprus problem. In this regard, it should be underlined that the procedure of bicommunal talks is at least inadequate methodologically, as it cannot address all the dimensions of the problem. [End Page 42]

This essay focuses on the Cyprus problem with a particular emphasis on the current phase and makes certain suggestions on how to move forward. It also raises the issue of the possible role that Cyprus could play in the evolving international environment. Indeed, these two issues are intertwined. A viable solution could, among other things, serve as a precedent for peaceful coexistence of different ethnic and religious groups within one state, while at the same time it could promote stability, security, and cooperation in the vital area of the eastern Mediterranean and beyond. On the other hand, an unworkable arrangement might lead to destabilization in the area, with further complications.

It is necessary to take into consideration not only the positions and the stakes of the parties directly involved but also broader interests, such as those of the United States and the EU. I begin with a short historical overview of the Cyprus problem and follow with a discussion of the requirements for a viable constitutional arrangement involving a single state. Finally, I examine the challenges and opportunities for Cyprus in the new international environment.

The Cyprus Problem Revisited

Cyprus's Fettered Independence and the Cold War

It is important to place events in Cyprus during the 1960s and 1970s within the contexts of the traditional Greek-Turkish antagonism and of the Cold War. 1 It should be remembered that Western powers and above all the United States, seeking to secure the eastern Mediterranean against possible encroachment by the Soviet Union, did not trust, to say the least, the president of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, during that era. According to O'Malley and Graig, the United States seemed to favor the partition of the island between Greece and Turkey with a view to maintaining the cohesion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's southern flank, and plans with this aim were discussed at the highest level. 2 [End Page 43]

Cyprus gained a fettered independence in 1960 with Britain, Greece, and Turkey acting as guarantor powers. Internally, the Cypriots had to labor under an imposed and unworkable constitution, which in effect provided for administrative federation and/or a consociational arrangement, which contained the seeds of discord and division. 3

At the time of independence, Cyprus was a poor, backward, agrarian country, whereas now it is a modern state in the eastern Mediterranean, aspiring to become a member of the EU. 4 This achievement acquires even more importance in view of the fact that since 1974 Cyprus has had to face critical problems...


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