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Don't​ ​lose​ ​this​ ​last​ ​chance​ ​on​ ​Cyprus
Don't​ ​lose​ ​this​ ​last​ ​chance​ ​on​ ​Cyprus
Defusing Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean
Defusing Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia

Don't​ ​lose​ ​this​ ​last​ ​chance​ ​on​ ​Cyprus

Originally published in European Voice

EU leaders must ignore calls to penalise Turkey.

At their summit later this week, EU leaders may be incited by Cyprus to punish Turkey for not opening its harbours and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic. They should resist and, instead, pledge support for negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, which are now entering a crucial phase.

Nicosia's stand is doubly ironic. It is pledging full commitment to the reunification talks, yet is trying to penalise Turkey, a key partner in any settlement. Greek Cypriots say they want to see Turkey in the EU, yet they are pushing it away.

The timing is also wrong. Europe, Turkey and Cyprus face a new 'last chance' to reunify the 1.1 million inhabitants of the island - 80% Greek Cypriot, 20% Turkish Cypriot. Unfortunately, the downward road - from a Greek Cypriot takeover in 1963, a Greece-backed coup in 1974, and the subsequent Turkish invasion - is paved with last chances. The most recent chance was lost when the EU accepted as a member a country run only by Greek Cypriots. Its leader and 76% of Greek Cypriots had voted against the 2004 settlement, including a Turkish withdrawal, which had been backed by the EU, the UN, the US, Turkey and 65% of Turkish Cypriots. After that, Greek Cypriots blocked half of Turkey's EU membership negotiations, right-wing leaders from major EU states turned against Turkey's European ambitions and a demoralised Turkey slowed its EU harmonisation process to a crawl.

In February 2008, the Greek Cypriots elected a new, pro-compromise leader, Demetris Christofias. A promising new period of talks began with the equally progressive Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat. However, despite some success, these two old friends have not yet managed to rescue the situation. In the absence of a real deal, polls suggest that Talat will lose his seat to a nationalist hardliner in elections in April.

If this happens, the underlying animosity stored up since 2004 could unravel the situation fast and the de facto partition will become permanent.

The EU will lose any prospect of EU-NATO co-operation and the positive impact that smooth EU-Turkey relations have had in its Middle Eastern backyard. Greece's territorial conflicts with Turkey may unfreeze. Turkey will see the charisma and prosperity linked to its last decade's EU integration efforts evaporate, will face billions of euros of European lawsuits over occupied Greek Cypriot property and will fail to win recognition of a Turkish Cypriot state.

On Cyprus, Greek Cypriots will suffer indefinitely Turkish troops in the occupied north, forfeit chances for restitution of occupied property and become a partial ghetto on the far eastern margin of Europe. Turkish Cypriots, already squeezed by migrants from Turkey, and today barely half of the population of the north, will see living standards fall and their community scatter as full-scale integration with Turkey ensues.

Momentum in the old virtuous circle between the EU, Turkey and Cyprus can be rebuilt. The new German government has dropped the idea of a second-class 'privileged partnership' for Turkey it had been canvassing as a substitute for the long-promised goal of membership. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy's opposition to Turkey's membership has brought new supporters of Turkey into the open. Greek Cypriots should send positive signals and find a way of accepting the Turkish offer of direct talks in the same room as the Turkish Cypriots, Greece and the UN. Turkey should act big and reach out to the Greek Cypriots to neutralise their real fears and lack of trust.

Ankara should also accelerate its recent new push on convergence with EU norms. This process is not just the proven best course for both sides. It is also the only path to the reunification of Cyprus - and for this to happen, the next few months really are the last chance.

Defusing Tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean

This week on War & Peace, Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope talk with Crisis Group’s Nigar Göksel about the nationalist tensions fuelling a maritime standoff between Turkey and Greece, and how coordinated efforts by regional powers can help de-escalate their dispute over the eastern Mediterranean.

Tensions flared in the eastern Mediterranean in mid-2020 when Turkey sent seismic research ships into waters contested with Greece and the Republic of Cyprus. While neither Turkey nor Greece seeks war with the other, competition over sovereignty and natural resources is reviving long-running geopolitical rivalries.

To discuss the various interests at play in their maritime standoff and how actors such as the EU and U.S. can help push the parties toward reconciliation, Olga Oliker and Hugh Pope are joined by Nigar Göksel, project director for Turkey. Together, they draw on key findings detailed in Crisis Group’s latest report on the issue – “Turkey-Greece: From Maritime Brinkmanship to Dialogue” – and assess whether recently restarted talks between President Erdogan and Prime Minister Mitsotakis signal a positive turn in strained relations and might lower the risks of regional conflict.

Click here to listen on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.

For more information, explore Crisis Group’s analysis on our Eastern Mediterranean Rivalries page.


Former Director of Communications & Outreach
Program Director, Europe and Central Asia
Project Director, Türkiye