Directorate General IA
External relations: Europe and the New Independent States, Common Foreign and Security Policy, External Service
Central planning department for external relations

The EU and Cyprus : The Next Steps

(Paper presented by Dr Fraser Cameron, Advisor, DG1A, European Commission, at Bonn University, 24 April 1998)[1]


On 31 March 1998 the EU opened accession negotiations with Cyprus following the recommendations of the Commission in its Opinion of 1993 and the decisions of the European Council in December 1997. This move was strongly criticised by Turkey and by Mr Denktash, the leader of the Turkish Cypriots. A number of threatening remarks were made which heightened tension and led to a flurry of diplomatic activity seeking to revive the flagging peace talks. At this stage no one can predict how events will unfold. Much clearly depends on the political leadership in Ankara and Athens as well as in Cyprus. The EU has consistently taken the view that the accession process should be viewed by all as a positive step which should facilitate a solution to the island’s division.

This paper reviews briefly the history of EU-Cyprus relations in order to set these relations into the context of the current enlargement process. It outlines the principles the EU has established for the enlargement negotiations, examines some of the problems that may arise and discusses what the EU expects from Cyprus in the course of these negotiations.

The Commission’s Opinion on Cyprus

The relationship between the EU and Cyprus is long established. The Association Agreement between the EU and Cyprus was signed as long ago as December 1972. This provided a framework for the development of economic, political and financial relations, backed up by assistance from the European Union. The second stage of the EC/Cyprus Association Agreement came into force in January 1988 and contained an agreement to proceed towards a Custom Union.

Cyprus applied to join the European Union in July 1990. Three years later, the Commission delivered in its Opinion a positive recommendation on the Cypriot application, noting in particular its advanced level of development and economic dynamism. It is worth examining the Opinion in some more detail. The Commission stated that ”it was convinced that the result of Cyprus’s accession to the Community will be increased security and prosperity and that it would help bring the two communities on the island closer together. If there were to be a political settlement, the prospect of the progressive re-establishment of fundamental liberties would help overcome the inevitable practical difficulties which would arise during the transition period in regard to the adoption of the relevant Community legislation. In regard to economic aspects, in view of the progress towards a customs union achieved thus far, the adoption of the acquis communautaire by Cyprus will pose no insurmountable problems. The Commission is not underestimating the problems that the economic transition poses. However, the economy of the southern part of the island has demonstrated an ability to adapt and seems ready to face the challenge of integration provided that the work already started on reforms and on opening up to the outside world is maintained, notably in the context of the customs union. This Opinion has also shown that there will be a greater chance of narrowing the development gap between north and south in the event of Cyprus’s integration with the Community”.

Turning to the wider issues of the Cyprus question, the Commission continued :

”Even though they object to the conditions under which the application for membership was made, the leaders of the Turkish Cypriot community are fully conscious of the economic and social benefits that integration with Europe would bring their community. This opinion has also shown that Cyprus’s integration with the Community implies a peaceful, balanced and lasting settlement of the Cyprus question - a settlement which will make it possible for the two communities to be reconciled, for confidence to be re-established and for their respective leaders to work together. While safeguarding the essential balance between the two communities and the right of each to preserve its fundamental interests, the institutional provisions contained in such a settlement should create the appropriate conditions for Cyprus to participate normally in the decision-making process of the EU and in the correct application of Community law throughout the island. In view of all the above and in the expectation of significant progress in the talks currently being pursued under the auspices of the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the Commission feels that a positive signal should be sent to the authorities and the people of Cyprus as a country eligible for membership and that as soon as the prospect of a settlement is surer, the EU is ready to start the process with Cyprus that should eventually lead to its accession.”[1]

From the Opinion to the Luxembourg European Council

The Council endorsed the Commission’s Opinion and in June 1994 the Corfu European Council agreed that Cyprus (and Malta) should be involved in the next enlargement process and in the following year it was further agreed that negotiations should begin six months after the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) due to commence in 1996. A year earlier Cyprus began a structured dialogue with the EU, participating along with other candidate countries from central and eastern Europe in a regular series of meetings on many aspects of EU affairs.

Although some time had elapsed between the publication of the Commission’s Opinion on Cyprus in the summer of 1993 and the publication of Agenda 2000 in July 1997, containing the Opinions on the ten candidates from central and eastern Europe, there was no demand to update the Opinion on Cyprus.

The Luxembourg European Council in December 1997 broadly endorsed the Commission’s assessments and defined a triple approach to the enlargement process. First, it agreed to establish a European Conference bringing together in a multilateral framework all the countries that wish to accede to the Union and share its values and aims. (Invitations were extended to the eleven candidates, plus Turkey, but the latter refused to attend) The first European Conference took place in London on 12 March and demonstrated a common front in tackling the problems of drugs and crime as well as the environment. It remains the hope of the EU that Turkey will partcipate in future meetings of the European Conference.

Second, on 30 March, the accession process, comprising the ten Central and East European countries plus Cyprus, was launched. All these countries are destined to join the European Union on the basis of the same criteria.

Third, on 31 March, accession negotiations were opened with the six countries recommended by the Commission in Agenda 2000. These are Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Poland and Slovenia.

Important elements underlining the inclusiveness of the enlargement process are:

an enhanced pre-accession strategy to enable the applicant countries to align themselves as far as possible on the ”acquis” of the Union before accession. A key feature will be the new instrument of Accession Partnerships, designed to mobilise all forms of assistance to the countries of Central Europe in a single framework.

a substantial increase in financial aid to the applicant countries. The EU’s technical assistance programme (PHARE) will be targeted on accession priorities such as the improvement of public administrations. From year 2000 there will also be aid for agriculture and structural development.

the possibility for the applicant countries to participate in Community programs such as education, training and research, to familiarise themselves with the Union’s polices and working methods.

a review procedure under which the Commission will make regular reports to the Council, from the end of 1998, on the progress of the Central and Eastern European countries towards accession, in particular the rate at which they adopt the acquis. The reports will assess the performance of the countries already negotiating as well as the other candidates for whom entry to the accession negotiations will be decided on the basis of these reports.

As regards Cyprus, the European Council concluded that ”accession should benefit all communities and help to bring about civil peace and reconciliation. The accession negotiations will contribute positively to the search for a political solution to the Cyprus problem through the talks under the aegis of the United Nations which must continue with a view to creating a bi-community, bi-zonal federation. In this context, the European Council requests that the willingness of the Government of Cyprus to include representatives of the Turkish Cypriot community in the accession negotiating delegation be acted upon.”[2]

The Turkish Response

Both before and after the Luxembourg European Council there had been a major diplomatic effort to resolve some of the problems surrounding Turkey and the Cyprus issue. As regards Turkey, the European Council confirmed Turkey’s eligibility for accession to the European Union emphasising that ”Turkey will be judged on the basis of the same criteria as the other applicant States. While the political and economic conditions allowing accession negotiations to be envisaged are not satisfied, the European Council considers that it is nevertheless important for a strategy to be drawn up to prepare Turkey for accession by bringing it closer to the European Union in every field. This strategy should consist in:

– development of the possibilities afforded by the Ankara Agreement;

– intensification of the Customs Union;

– implementation of financial co-operation;

– approximation of laws and adoption of the Union acquis.

– participation, to be decided case by case, in certain programmes and in certain agencies

In addition, participation in the European Conference will enable the Member States of the European Union and Turkey to step up their dialogue and co-operation in areas of common interest.

The European Council recalled that strengthening Turkey's links with the European Union also depends on that country's pursuit of the political and economic reforms on which it has embarked, including the alignment of human rights standards and practices on those in force in the European Union; respect for and protection of minorities; the establishment of satisfactory and stable relations between Greece and Turkey; the settlement of disputes, in particular by legal process, including the International Court of Justice; and support for negotiations under the aegis of the UN on a political settlement in Cyprus on the basis of the relevant UN Security Council Resolutions.”[3]

Turkish reactions to the decisions of the European Council were decidedly negative. The Prime Minister complained of EU discrimination and announced that Turkey would not participate in the European Conference. As the date for the opening of accession negotiations approached Turkish views became even more critical with political leaders talking of the dire consequences if the EU were to proceed with enlargement involving Cyprus whilst excluding Turkey.

Diplomatic Efforts

After Luxembourg there was a lull in diplomatic activity until after the Presidential elections in Cyprus in March. Commissioner van den Broek met with President Clerides in the margins of the European Conference in London on 12 March to discuss the refusal of Mr Denktash to agree to Turkish-Cypriot participation in the accession negotiations. The Commissioner noted that the offer remained on the table and hoped that Mr Denktash would reconsider his position.

The UN Secretary General’s Special Advisor for Cyprus, Mr Cordovez, visited the region 18-24 March and intends to return in May.

The EU’s Special Envoy, Sir David Hannay, has visited the region on several occasions and will continue to act in this capacity under the Austrian Presidency. President Clinton’s Special Envoy, Mr Holbrooke also visited Cyprus on 4-5 April and left without achieving any progress. He also intends returning to the region in May.

Russia also has a Special Representative, Mr Chizhov, whilst the Finns have appointed a Special Representative to Cyprus, Mr Blomberg, to prepare for the Finnish EU Presidency in the second half of 1999. Germany, Sweden and Italy have all sent high-level missions to the island in the last few weeks.

This renewed diplomatic effort has been supported by efforts to further deepen EU-Turkish relations. The Commission unveiled a new Communication on Turkey on 4 March which outlined a number of practical measures to improve the operation of the Customs Union and the following month signed a new farm trade deal with Turkey. The Communication is due to be discussed at a General Affairs Council on 27 April, with an Association Council scheduled for 25 May.

Moves to Overcome the Division

The current diplomatic efforts to achieve a solution to the Cyprus problem have a long history. As noted above the 1993 Commission Opinion noted the continuing division of Cyprus and the problems this would pose for EU membership. Efforts since then, chiefly under UN auspices, to work towards a political settlement, in accordance with various UN proposals, have not achieved much progress. The UN conducted intensive contacts with the leaders of the two communities during the first half of 1997 which led to face to face talks between them under UN auspices. The shape of a settlement, establishing a bicommunal and bizonal federation, is well established, and supported by the Union. A number of options for constitutional and territorial arrangements to implement it have been explored, and the beginnings of a possible consensus have sometimes been discernible. But there has not hitherto been sufficient incentive for the two communities to reach agreement.

The Union is determined to play a positive role in bringing about a just and lasting settlement in accordance with the relevant United Nations Resolutions. The status quo which is at odds with international law, threatens the stability of the island, the region and has implications for the security of Europe as a whole. The Union has made clear that it cannot, and does not wish to, interfere in the institutional arrangements to be agreed between the parties. But it is available to advise on the compatibility of such arrangements with the acquis of the Union. The EU has consistently stressed that the prospect of accession, with political and economic advantages to Turkish Cypriots as well as to Greek Cypriots, can in itself provide such an incentive. Whilst the EU always held that an agreement on a political settlement would permit a faster conclusion to the negotiations, it also held the view that if progress towards a settlement was not made before the negotiations were due to begin, they should be opened with the government of the Republic of Cyprus, as the only authority recognised by international law.

The Opening of Accession Negotiations

On 30 March the accession process (see above) was launched with the ten applicants from central and eastern Europe plus Cyprus. A day later the accession negotiations were opened by Robin Cook as President of the Council of Ministers. It is worth quoting extensively from his speech as it sets out clearly the EU perspective on a number of important issues. Cook began by regretting ”that it has not been possible to achieve a political solution to the continuing division of Cyprus in time for the accession negotiations on which we embark today. The Union believes that Cyprus’ accession to the EU should benefit all communities, including the Turkish Cypriot community, and help to bring about civil peace and reconciliation on the island. In that context, our objective remains a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation on the basis of a comprehensive political settlement in accordance with UN Security Council Resolutions. A political settlement would allow the provisions of the Accession Treaty to be implemented throughout the island. Progress towards accession and towards a just an viable solution to the Cyprus problem will naturally reinforce each other. The Union reaffirms it full support for the search for a solution which is now proceeding through talks under the aegis of the UN and hopes that negotiations will resume without delay.”

Cook reiterated that the EU welcomed the offer which the Cypriot Government had made to include Turkish Cypriot representatives in the team for negotiating the terms of Cyprus’ accession to the EU. It was regrettable that the Turkish Cypriot community had so far responded negatively to this offer. He emphasised the importance that the EU attached to associating the Turkish Cypriots with the accession process, in accordance with the conclusions of the Luxembourg European Council and said that the Presidency and the Commission would continue to pursue the necessary contacts. (At the time of writing there has been no response from Mr Denktash to the offer by President Clerides that he could have carte blanche to nominate representatives from the North to participate in the accession negotiations. The question of how a common position would be agreed remains open).

Cook then went on to say that the negotiations were are part of a wider Accession Process comprising the ten central and Eastern European applicant States and Cyprus, which forms part of the implementation of Article O of the Treaty on European Union. The Accession Process was ”comprehensive, evolutive and inclusive: all states within it are participating on an equal footing and all are destined to join the European Union on the basis of the same criteria and depending on their individual progress.”