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Division in Cyprus
Cyprus has a history of continuous external attacks and invasions. The most recent, the Ottoman and British invasions, largely explain the country’s current situation. That is the division in Cyprus between the Greek part and the Turkish part. Despite the complicated situation of a divided Cyprus, the country became a member of the EU in May 2004. Partition is a reality in Cyprus for more than four decades already so it is important to see how the EU is helping with this situation, mainly explaining how it is dealing with the core challenges and if there are any chances of reunification.

Historical Background

Since the start of British rule and the defeat of Ottoman influence, the pressure for Greek independence was present. By 1955, the Greek government raised the issue of self-determination and in April 1955, the EOKA revolution began. The British had trouble repressing the Greek Cypriots (GC) by themselves so they recruited Turkish Cypriots (TC). The British Empire not only prevented the island from joining Greece but increased the enmity between the GC and the TC which provoked the division in Cyprus.

The division in Cyprus started after it gained independence in 1960, but differences soon proved that ordinary coexistence was impossible. Almost 15 years later, negotiations were still stagnant. Therefore, in 1974, a 220 km long frontier, known as the Green Line emerged, separating the TC and GC regions. This Berlin-style iron curtain suggested that the only way to achieve peace is by granting the two regions the capacity to self-govern. In 1983, the Turkish side of Cyprus declared its independence as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. However, it remains a state that only Turkey recognizes.

What are the Challenges?

According to a report that the Congressional Research Service published, the per capita GDP in Cyprus by 2019 was $30,000 while in the north, it was more than half that amount, approximately $14,000. The TC has an open, free market economy, however, it is largely dependent on Turkey as a trading partner. TC’s diplomatic and economic isolation has limited its business opportunities and capacity to grow. The lack of political stability and recognition by other countries increases the costs of foreign investment in the region and makes it less attractive. Therefore, it also has to rely on Turkey for financial assistance.

This dependency has led to an unbearable situation in Northern Cyprus due to the Turkish Economic crisis. Inflation has sky-rocketed in Turkey, especially over the past few years. The Turkish Lira is 18.6 against the U.S. dollar, as of November 2022. This means an unprecedented fall in the value of Turkish currency, and thus, everything imported becomes more expensive.

Meanwhile, this situation in Northern Cyprus led to worrying shortages of basic goods in the region, including fuel. During the first half of January 2022, electricity cuts in Northern Cyprus were an ongoing thing. Constant power cuts, sometimes even daily mean no heating which severely affects a person’s quality of life. Furthermore, students are having difficulty studying during long periods of power cuts, making education harder for many.

The Ways the EU is Helping

When Cyprus asked to join the EU the problem was whether to recognize Cyprus as part of the EU or recognize the division in Cyprus and the existence of the Turkish state on the island, thus being the first power to recognize it apart from Turkey. Cyprus became a member but the EU only recognizes the Greek part of the island. Northern Cyprus, which the TC populate, is outside EU legislation and remains an isolated region in international affairs.

However, ever since Cyprus joined, the EU has stated its commitment to help alleviate the isolation that the TC suffered. Therefore, it established an EU Aid Programme for the Turkish Cypriot community whose ultimate aim is to encourage reunification. The specific objectives in order to achieve this are:

  • Improving the economic situation in the TC.
  • Promoting communication and cooperation with the GC.
  • Establishing relations with other countries.
  • Preparing them for EU legislation.

From the start of the Programme until 2018, the EU dedicated almost €520 million to improve the situation for the TC region. Furthermore, even though EU legislation does not allow the TC to trade freely with EU members, since 2004, it has allowed all North Cyprus products to be sold to the GC and through them to other member states, according to a Congressional Research Service report. Due to this allowance, the EU became the largest trading partner after Turkey.

On the other hand, the relationship that has emerged between Turkey and the EU since the accession of Cyprus as a member is also important. In 2004, Turkey started negotiations to join the EU. Indirectly, the best way to help the situation in divided Cyprus is to change Turkey’s attitude towards the problem, according to International Council. Pushing for negotiations in Cyprus, rather than defending the separation would be good proof that Turkey is ready to make changes in favor of joining the EU.

However, up until today, Turkey’s accession negotiations have frozen. For Turkey, the EU means an opportunity to improve the economic problems in the country and for the EU, the accession of Turkey ensures a way of transforming the country’s practices into respecting democracy, rule of law and human rights. Reaching an agreement with these unnegotiable conditions has been difficult for Turkey which is clearly in democratic backsliding.

What the EU could do to revive democracy is clearly limited and depends greatly on the country itself. Therefore, reunification in Cyprus is a matter that has to wait but the EU has been helpful in stabilizing the problem, supporting the TC community, and avoiding violent confrontation.

– Carla Tomas
Photo: Wikimedia Commons