Cyprus is the key to the Greece-Turkey conflict: The Weekly 21
Already faced with countless serious foreign policy challenges, the European Union could really do without another Greece-Turkey conflict that may potentially escalate into an armed clash in the Eastern Mediterranean region. Undoubtedly, it seems a highly complex conflict with complicated international legal disputes over the existing maritime borders, navigation routes, special economic zones and natural gas mining.
However, the European Union still has the key to the solution as long as it is willing to stop scratching the surface and deep-dive into fully understanding the historical conflict as well as to manage the problem at its root.
Regardless how irritated many European countries may be by Turkey’s often brash foreign policy with its complete lack of diplomatic tactfulness, unilateral and threatening stance or President Erdogan’s general policy, the long-term settlement of the escalating international conflict does not seem to be feasible based on the argumentation that has been voiced by various political party groups and even Commission representatives this week, namely, that solidarity binds us to stand for the EU Member States Greece and Cyprus. Not only is this argumentation impracticable, it is also quite infantile and clearly reveals that the EU either cannot or does not want to understand the causal relations underlying the complications.
First of all, we should separate the issue of Greece’s intended special economic zones from the matter of gas mining.
From the aspect of international law, it is nonsense for Greece to unlimitedly create special economic zones around its islands near the Turkish shore because it would lead to the absurd situation where Turkey, which has the longest Mediterranean coastline, could hardly have legal access to the Mediterranean Sea on account of the special economic zones around the Greek islands near Turkey’s shore.
It’s not just common sense and a natural sense of fairness that make us say so: there are international legal cases serving as precedents (including a 1982 territorial dispute between Libya and Tunisia, over an island as well). Accordingly, Greece would have some limitations in terms of creating special economic zones around the islands.
As far as gas mining around Cyprus is concerned, we should not even debate it as long as Greek-Turkish division of Cyprus remains unsolved, since the discussion will always be pointless without such a settlement.
The Annan Plan offered a solution for this problem and it was actually accepted by the Turks in a referendum held in early 2004, i.e., before Cyprus’ EU accession.
On the other hand, Greek Cypriots did not accept it because they knew that the EU would admit them no matter what – thanks to the efficient lobbying by EU Member State Greece. This issue should have been settled before Cyprus’ admission to the EU. Instead, the EU imported a local tension to exist within its own borders from then on. It is not acceptable that Cyprus practically deprives a constituent nationality, i.e., the Turks of the northern territory, of all their rights while Northern Cyprus is off the map in terms of public law.
Therefore the key to the Greece-Turkey confrontation, which now carries the risk of escalating into a military conflict, lies in Cyprus.
Left to its own devices to facilitate a settlement, the EU does not need to reinvent the wheel: to this day, the Annan Plan has remained the most constructive and realistic proposition to unify the island ever since its 1974 division. The Plan suggests the constituent Greek and Turkish nationalities to form a Swiss-type confederation with a joint government, under the initial supervision of Greece and Turkey.
At the end of a decade that has seen Europe’s entire neighbourhood destabilize from Northern Africa and the Middle East all the way to Eastern Europe, the EU cannot afford to let two of its key partners drift into a war.
The current situation is perhaps an opportunity for Europe to settle a frozen conflict waiting for a solution for half a century.