ANALYSIS – Greek Cypriots Playing Hardball On Belarus Sanctions

We all know that a kid brings his ball to the park so he can play football with the big boys. He loves it, as long as he’s on the winning side. But if his team is losing, or he can’t score a goal, then he picks up his ball and sulks off home – if he can’t have it his way, then no one will play.

This is exactly the kind of mentality we have been seeing recently from the Greek Cypriot leadership, often portrayed by Turkish and Turkish Cypriot politicians as the pampered “spoiled child” of Europe.

Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides – once described by Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu as a “good kid” – has been throwing a tantrum in Brussels, stomping his feet like a five-year-old.

His demand? That if the EU is going to impose sanctions on Belarus, over allegations that the recent presidential election there was rigged and the subsequent crackdown on protesters, then the bloc should also impose sanctions on Turkey for drilling in the waters around Cyprus.

The two issues are as related to each other as chalk is to cheese.

Christodoulides denies that he has “vetoed” the Belarus sanctions, but this is a moot point. Veto or not, the fact is Christodoulides has so far hindered concerted action at the foreign ministers’ level, where unanimity is required, by reportedly refusing to sign the legal text of an agreement, over a month since EU leaders took the political decision to impose sanctions on Belarus.

The move was met with consternation among other EU member states.

Latvia’s Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics accused the Greek Cypriots of holding the rest of the EU “hostage,” adding that “some colleagues should not link things that must not be linked.”

Former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt said the Greek Cypriot administration’s stance at the EU foreign ministers’ meeting, held on Sept. 21, highlighted a “rapidly growing credibility problem for the EU.”

Ahead of that meeting, one EU source told Britain’s The Guardian newspaper that the Greek Cypriots were alone and that “everyone is annoyed.”

Indeed, there does not appear to be any appetite among EU leaders to sanction Turkey – which is acting within its and the Turkish Cypriots’ rights in the Eastern Mediterranean – as a quid pro quo for sanctioning Belarus.

Even in the UK, despite no longer being part of the EU, the Shadow Scottish National Party spokesman for foreign affairs, Alyn Smith, called on British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to “urge his counterparts in Cyprus to change their view.”

However, the EU only has itself to blame for the current impasse, which is rooted in its ill-fated decision to admit the Greek Cypriot Administration of South Cyprus – or the “Republic of Cyprus” as they, and unfortunately, most of the rest of the world, see it – as an EU member on May 1, 2004.

They were admitted just seven days after Greek Cypriot voters overwhelmingly rejected a peace deal – which was backed by the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey – that would have seen a united Cyprus join the EU club, and would also have helped pave the way for Turkey’s accession.

Rather than insisting that the Greek Cypriots first resolve their differences with the Turkish Cypriots, the EU instead sent out the message that the Greek Cypriots could join their ranks with or without the agreement of the co-founders of the Republic of Cyprus, which they have usurped since 1963.

It is hard to see exactly what the EU has gained by allowing a Greek Cypriot-dominated Cyprus into its exclusive club, other than one massive migraine.

It has simply imported the “Cyprus problem,” now turning it into an EU problem, creating a rod for its own back that it has been carrying for the last 16 years.

Far from being an impetus for the unification of Cyprus – which has been split along its current lines since 1974, when Turkey intervened to stop Turkish Cypriots being annihilated, following 11 years of suffering, and the island being annexed to Greece – the EU has only made the prospects of a Cyprus deal more distant.

How? Because there is no longer a level playing field. The southern side of Cyprus has international recognition and power in the EU to block anything in return for its own selfish interests.

This includes obstructing Turkey’s path to the EU and also disrupting plans to allow direct trade between North Cyprus and the EU Customs Territory, plans which have been left in limbo for the last 16 years, despite the European Council being “determined to put an end to the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community.”

In Europe, the Greek Cypriot administration punches far above their weight.

On the one hand, they refuse to share power and resources with the Turkish Cypriots, who make up around 30% of Cyprus’s population, seeing them as a “minority,” while the Greek Cypriots themselves only make up about 0.2% of the 446 million inhabitants of the EU.

For years, they have stymied EU membership talks with Turkey, a key strategic ally for the EU and the United Kingdom both in terms of trade and regional security.

They claim that Turkey is exploring for offshore energy resources in “Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone,” a zone they demarcated without the approval of the Turkish Cypriots and have so far refused offers to cooperate on the matter.

And do not be fooled by promises from the Greek Cypriot leadership that they will share any hydrocarbons revenue with the Turkish Cypriots – they have said they will only do so after a solution in Cyprus, which they have already rejected, most notably in 2004 and again in 2017.

According to a 2016 Journal of Contemporary European Studies article by David Phinnemore and Erhan Icener, titled Holding the Door Half (?) Open: the EU and Turkey 10 Years On, “Cyprus” – i.e. the Greek Cypriots – blocked, in 2009, the opening of negotiations on Chapters 2, 15, 23, 24, 25 and 31 of Turkey’s EU membership application, plus Chapter 12 a year later.

Prior to that, the Greek Cypriot side secured an EU agreement that no negotiations would take place on eight other chapters until Turkey fulfilled its “commitments under the Additional Protocol (Council of the European Union 2006, 8, 9)” – in other words until Turkey opened its ports and airports to “Cyprus.”

I recall being invited to speak on Sky News and BBC Radio 5 Live in London in December 2004 to give my on-the-spot analysis of the latest EU “crisis” caused by the Greek Cypriot stance during a summit to set a start date for Turkey’s membership negotiations.

“The Greek Cypriots simply don’t want Turkey in the EU,” was my blunt assessment, which still holds true today.

I also said that the EU had “rewarded” the Greek Cypriots for rejecting a peace deal and “punished” the Turkish Cypriots for accepting it, and that the EU had made a grave mistake by admitting just one part of Cyprus.

That is a view that was shared by Phinnemore and Icener, who regarded the accession of “Cyprus” to the EU as “catastrophic” for Turkey’s membership bid.

“With Cyprus still divided … enlargement has seen the EU not only import the conflict unresolved, when the general expectation was that a resolution of sorts should have been achieved through Cyprus’ accession but also admit a state willing to wield its veto over the development of EU-Turkey relations,” they noted.

“The fears of those who warned against admitting Cyprus as a divided island have been realized. For many observers of EU-Turkey relations, Cyprus is the EU’s bete noire.”

One of those who warned against Cyprus’s entry into the EU was the distinguished British international lawyer Maurice Mendelson.

In a legal opinion dated Sept. 12, 2001, which followed earlier opinions he gave in 1997, Mendelson said that Cyprus’s entry to the EU would be “illegal.”

He also said that if “Cyprus were to be admitted to the EU without the political problems having been resolved, the practical effect is likely to be that the entity admitted will be unable to fulfil all of its obligations towards the other [EU] members, and probably that the other members will be unable fully to carry out their obligations towards the whole of Cyprus and its inhabitants.”

Sadly, the EU failed to heed these warnings. On Thursday, Oct. 1, member state leaders will meet in Brussels to discuss, among other things, “relations with Turkey and the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean” and “the situation in Belarus.”

All eyes will once again be on the Greek Cypriots – will they play ball over Belarus, or will they again walk off the pitch in protest?

Penned By Eltan Halil. Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The EurAsian Times