The role of EU membership application in Cyprus conflict


The article aims at providing insight on the impact of European Union in Cyprus. The union has the objective of transform conflict zones to regions that embrace cooperation. However, the case of Cyprus seems to show that the EU failed to achieve their primary objective of enabling cooperation. The events that took place before the accession of Cyprus to EU show that both sides of the two communities had issues that needed solutions. The EU had a strong leveraging ability to enhance the cooperation of the Turkish-Cypriots and Greek-Cypriots. The activities taken in the process of allowing accession do not seem to support that EU remained in control of the situation.  The country underwent through a series of transformation that led switching of sides that supported unification of the communities.

Republic of Cyprus applied for EU membership on 4th July 1990. The move seemed to be promising for both Greek and Turkish communities. It needed to change the way at which the communities related to one another through condition for EU accession. However, the island failed to realize the potential in joining EU. It led negotiation of leaders from both sides in 2001 with an aim of reaching agreement.

The problem in Cyprus escalated in 1974 after turkey invaded the northern part of the country. Turkey took advantage of the planned coupe backed by Athens to overthrow president Makarios who had support from majority of people in Cyprus (Whitman & Wolff, 2012). Turkish troops occupied around 40% of the country. During the invasion, most of the Greek-Cypriots in the northern part of the Cyprus fled from their homes. Others faced inhumane treatments from the Turkish troops. The invasion led to many Cyprus citizens becoming refugees in their country. Turkey had interest in the northern part of Cyprus due to its great economic potential. The Turkish government increased the number of their troops in the region. The international community failed to respond this aggression using military forces due to their membership in NATO and ability to stabilize the area for Europe and the United States. Invasion of Turkish forces led to elevation in division of the country to Turkish-Cypriots and Greek-Cypriots.

Period before accession

The relationship between Cyprus and EU started in 1970s when the Greek-Cypriots had control over the country (Stavridis & Irrera, 2015). The leaders during this period signed an agreement with the European Economic Community (EEC). The EU became an important player in the problems of Cyprus in 1990 after the leaders in Cyprus applied for membership. It provided an opportunity for international community to intervene and solve the problems in Cyprus. The EU could offer significant incentives to both sides as they pursue unification of the communities. At the same time, the EU had opportunity to push for strategies that would allow efficient operation of bi-communal state in Cyprus. The EU had a chance to push for these unification measures during the talk for accession.

However, the prospects of integrating Cyprus in EU had counterproductive effects to the reconciliation of the two communities. At the beginning, the Turkish-Cypriots were against the decision Greek-Cypriot controlled government to apply the EU membership (Isachenko, 2012). The Turkish-Cypriots saw that the ruling government did not include them in the decision and made them harden their position in inter-communal dispute. The view of Turkish-Cypriots was that the government did not represent the view of both communities in their application for EU membership. Such opinions came to affect the country even though both communities needed to be politically equal. Thus, the application for EU membership by government controlled by one community enhanced the division of communities on the island.

The European Union led to more problems by recognizing the ability of Cyprus to become member of the union. The European council in Corfu announced in 1994 that the country would become member of EU in the enlargement process that followed. They failed to consider the important links on Cyprus gaining membership and finding solution to the problems. The announcement meant the Greek-Cypriot part of the country would automatically join EU. However, the ability to include Turkish-Cypriots depended on their ability to form bi-communal state. It was a mistake to admit the country to EU while still divided (Ker-Lindsay, 211). The European Union lost their leverage for advocating for unification of the two communities after announcing that Cyprus would join EU in the enlargement process that would follow.

The inclusion of Cyprus in the enlargement process that followed announcement in 1994 resulted from various factors (Göçek, 2011). The Greek government had significant diplomatic success with the European countries and influenced their decision. The republic of Cyprus also showed that improvement in adherence to the conditions that were in place. The decision also considered the intransigent nature of the Turkish-Cypriots that would not allow accession process. Thus, the leaders in EU allowed accession of Cyprus without first solving the inter-communal issues. However, the Turkish-Cypriots reacted to the EU stance by enhancing further integration with turkey. The development saw deterioration in the relationship between the two communities in Cyprus.

The relations between turkey and Greece did not assist in finding solution to the problem in Cyprus. These nations were having strong disagreements during this period. Greece and Greek-Cypriots countered the integration of the turkey and Turkish-Cypriots by signing defense cooperation agreements. Besides, the Greek-Cypriots also increased the capability of their army that added strains to the relations with the Turkish-Cypriots. The EU courts also contributed to strenuous relations of the two communities by imposing embargo on goods from Turkish-Cypriots (Verney, 2013). All the member of EU could not accept any export from the Turkish-Cypriots. The move made the Turkish-Cypriots economy to suffer and increased the euro-skepticism in northern part of Cyprus that worsened the inter-communal relations.

It is clear that the early stages of integration failed to solve the problems of the island through reconciliation. The EU failed to achieve the reconciliation goal through removing the condition that required the reconciliation before accession. Besides, the EU failed to change Turkish-Cypriots towards finding the solution to the country. The membership of Greece in EU while turkey was out reduced the probability of Turkish-Cypriots in participating in the EU accession.

The application for the EU membership by Cyprus needed to ensure that the negotiations achieved the reconciliation of the two communities. The EU needed to place strict conditions on the Turkish-Cypriots and Greek-Cypriots to ensure that they achieve the goal of reconciliation. Besides, the union had the ability to offer better incentives that would entice both communities to commit to resolution process.

Post accession

After the accession in 2004, the role of EU in resolving the problems in Cyprus changed dramatically. The EU found itself in unusual international situation (Kyris, 2016). The Greek-Cypriots remain under the protection of EU with limited incentives. The attitudes of people about EU in the northern part of the country continue to recede. The situation leaves EU with restricted ability to provide solutions to the problems in Cyprus.

The Greek-Cypriots do not seem to have shifted attention towards solving the inter-communal issues. Nonetheless, there are few positive developments since the accession in 2004. In 2008, the election of moderate leadership led to renewal of negotiation. However, this development is not from EU. The membership of Cyprus in EU only seems to enhance the confidence of the Greek-Cypriots as independent contributors to the issues.  An example of such confidential practices is the use of veto power to stop trade links between Turkish Cypriots and EU by the republic of Cyprus (Engert, 2010). Republic of Cyprus also played a role in delaying the ability of turkey to join EU.

EU also expressed their need to help the Turkish-Cypriots and enable reunification of the communities after accession. Some of the initiatives include many activities that aim at enhancing development in northern Cyprus. The EU acts as the bridge linking the isolated community to rest of the world. Brussels continues to provide financial and technical assistance to northern part of Cyprus. However, some of the activities that would ensure there is development for the Turkish Cypriots are still not functional due to suspension of EU laws. There is still suspension on the ability of the Turkish Cypriots conduct trading or commercial activities with the members of the EU. Such trade will ensure improvement in the inter-communal relations. The suspension of the EU laws only leaves the option of capacity building as the most innovative move that EU can take to the Turkish Cypriots. The region still faces many challenges that include the refusal of Brussels to recognize Turkish Cypriot administration.

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The developments saw the drop of percentage of people thinking that joining EU is a good idea. Most of the people have views that Brussels cannot assist in solving their problems. The individuals in the northern part of Cyprus get their conclusion from the unfulfilled promises since the EU accession.

The membership brought a lot of improvement to the Turkish Cypriots. The EU still serves as the first international community that attends to their need through technical and financial aids. The union also ensures the republic of Cyprus administration respects the green line that separates the two regions in the country. However, the full potential of the area still remain elusive due to the suspension of the EU laws. The union is still trying to address the trade regulation on the northern Cyprus through proposal to its members (Morelli, 2011). The EU has put strategies that will enable fast development of the region after enforcement of the EU laws. However, the current situation leaves most of the Turkish Cypriots isolated.

The Greek-Cypriot faced a period where they gained legal, physical and psychological safety after Cyprus gained EU membership. It allowed their leaders to take some steps that were not possible before the accession. The decision making structure of EU trapped it due to divergent interests of the member states. The EU also has the duty of managing the differences between the republic of Cyprus and turkey. It has to become the diplomatic option for various players in the Cyprus conflict (Hughes, 2013).

In conclusion, the European Union had the ability to resolve the issues in Cyprus before accession. The union had the ability to ensure both parties made commitments to have peaceful nation. However, the EU lost this ability by limiting the conditions needed by the country before joining the union. After the accession, the conflict in Cyprus still continues. The EU gives the Greek Cypriots the safety they need and make them become confident in their actions. There are also developments in the northern part of the country due to EU initiatives. However, the Turkish Cypriots still face exclusion due the inability to enforce the EU laws in the northern part of Cyprus.

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  2. Engert, S. (2010). EU Enlargement and Socialization: Turkey and Cyprus. London: Routledge
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  9. Verney, S. (2013). Euroscepticism in Southern Europe: A Diachronic Perspective. London: Routledge.
  10. Whitman R. & Wolff, S. (2012). The European Union as a Global Conflict Manager. London: Routledge.
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