The fifth Mediterranean conference, hosted in the divided capital of Nicosia, in Cyprus, produced a joint declaration which favoured Greek Cypriot political positions, angering Turkey.
As the latest Southern European Union Summit (SEUS) reached its conclusion on January 29 in divided Nicosia, the capital of both the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC) and Greek Cypriot Administration (GCA), the decades-long Cyprus issue has been one of the political items to browbeat Turkey in the joint declaration of EU’s Med7.
Despite reaffirming “the importance of the EU relations with Turkey,” the SEUS called on Ankara “to normalise its relations with the Republic of Cyprus”, whose legal status has been an international dispute since 1974. Turkey does not recognise a solely Greek-led administration as the legal representative of the whole of Cyprus.
The declaration has also demanded Turkey open its ports, airports and airspace to a political entity, which Turkey calls the Greek Cypriot Administration.
“While the EU Council made a decision to end the [international] isolation of Turkish Cypriots on April 26, 2004, it has still not carried the decision into effect. [In the face of its own unfulfillment], the union still calls Turkey to open its ports and airports to the Greek Cypriot Administration,” said Mustafa Lakadamyali, Turkish Cypriot Ambassador, representing the TRNC in Washington, DC.
"[EU leaders] know Turkey’s proposal that it could take a step [to open its ports and airports] if restrictions over TRNC ports and airports are lifted [by international community],” Lakadamyali told TRT World.
In Cyprus, located in the middle of the eastern Mediterranean, the island’s Turkish and Greek populations have been divided ever since the 1974 Turkish intervention, which aimed to prevent a change in the island’s political status quo following the Greek Cypriot military coup against the internationally-recognised government of the Republic of Cyprus.
Since then, the disagreement between Western states, primarily Greece, which have opposed Turkish intervention and military presence in the island, and Turkey, which firmly defends its presence in the island to protect Turkish Cypriots against Greek aggression, has created a deadlock known as the Cyprus Issue.
As a result, the island has been divided between two political entities, one led by Greek Cypriots in the south and another led by Turkish Cypriots in the north, which became the TRNC in 1983, recognised only by Turkey. Backed by much of the international community, the Greek Cypriots still pretend to represent the Republic of Cyprus in the south, which is considered by Turkey as the GCA.
Further angering Turkey, the EU declaration did not touch upon the internationally-recognised rights of Turkish Cypriots in any context at all.
In a brief statement, Turkey has reiterated its Cyprus stance in a response to the SEUS declaration, rejecting its recommendations.
“Turkey remains committed to taking the necessary steps to protect the legitimate rights and interests of the Turkish Cypriots,” the statement said.
Turkey has been one of the three guarantor states, along with Britain and Greece, since the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960.
After a Greek Cypriot coup, aiming to unite the island with Greece in July 1974, Turkey, as a guarantor state, intervened in the island to prevent a Greek unification which would have ended the Republic of Cyprus.
Cyprus’s problematic “reunification”
The SEUS declaration has also been filled with references to decades-long inconclusive negotiations about finding “a comprehensive and viable solution to the Cyprus problem in accordance with relevant UNSC [UN Security Council] resolutions.”
“The Republic of Cyprus is and will remain a member of the European Union following reunification, and EU membership is the best safeguard for a reunited Cyprus,” the declaration said.
But the declaration did not address whom “the Republic of Cyprus” will reunify and how it could be possible for a state, which the EU recognises as Cyprus, to reunify with a component it does not recognise, exposing the flawed logic of the union’s Cyprus stance.
Turkey’s foreign ministry slammed the EU reunification stance, calling it “another example of the unfair and unconstructive attitude maintained by certain EU members, in the name of the so-called ‘union solidarity’.”
“It’s true that there is a common prejudice against Turkey in the EU. Being member of the EU, Greece and Greek Cypriot Administration, carrying intentions, which could not be described as good, have became the main factor for the emergence of European prejudices against Turkey,” said Ismail Bozkurt, a Turkish Cypriot writer, who was once a member of the TRNC presidential advisory council responsible for negotiations with the GCA.
Before the most recent 2015 talks, which the SEUS also referred to in its joint declaration, the last major effort to break the deadlock and settle the Cyprus dispute was the Annan Plan initiated by late Kofi Annan, the former UN general secretary, to facilitate the entry of a united Cyprus into the EU in 2004.
Despite being strongly supported by Turkey, the initiative failed due to Greek Cypriot opposition. While Turkish Cypriots overwhelmingly voted for the plan, a large majority of Greek Cypriots rejected it.
Despite the Greek rejection, against the spirit of the measure, the EU awarded the Greek Cypriot Administration its membership, which has been perceived by Turkey as a betrayal of the principles of the EU and international rules and a violation of both Turkish Cypriot rights and Turkey’s good intentions.
“The EU declaration reflects a distorted position, which has been rooted in the EU’s wrong and unjust decision to accept Greek Cypriot Administration as a member before the Cyprus issue has been resolved,” Lakadamyali said.
East Mediterranean gas reserves: An opportunity or spoiler?
With the newly discovered rich gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean’s Levant Basin, the nature of the conflict has evolved, which has presented an opportunity to the conflicting parties to find a common denominator and address the ongoing dispute.
However, the newly discovered gas reserves are located in areas contested by Turkey and the GCA as well as areas contested by Israel and Lebanon. In addition, every state wants to go its own way to exploit gas reserves located in its claimed Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ).
Until recently, the eastern Mediterranean states have depended on gas imports to meet their energy needs. But with the new offshore gas discoveries, the prospect of self-sustainability became achievable for the littoral states, with the option to even export their gas to international markets, primarily to Europe.
In total, the Levant Basin has gas reserves amounting to 3.45 trillion cubic metres as well as 1.7 billion barrels of oil, according Zeliha Khashman, a professor of international relations at Near Eastern University in the TRNC.
“These newly discovered natural gas resources have been assessed to be huge resources for the region and also for Europe,” Khashman told TRT World.
But again the SEUS declaration does not appear to make the newly discovered gas reserves a common denominator to reach a mutual understanding between Turkish and Greek sides. Instead, the union has offered an unmistakable support to the GCA, provoking Turkish resentment.
“We express our full support and solidarity with the Republic of Cyprus in exercising its sovereign rights to explore, exploit and develop its natural resources within its EEZ, in accordance with EU and international law, including the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea,” the declaration said.
Turkey again rejected the EU notion for favouring Greek Cypriots in the utilisation of gas reserves in the Mediterranean.
“The commendation in the declaration of the so-called efforts by the Greek Cypriots regarding the settlement process in Cyprus and the expression of support for their unilateral hydrocarbon activities in the Eastern Mediterranean clearly display the continuation of the Greek Cypriot Administration’s abuse of its EU membership,” the foreign ministry said.
Ankara sees the latest Greek Cypriot gas exploration actions in the eastern Mediterranean as another violation of both the “inalienable rights” of Turkish Cypriots and its good intentions, demanding a stop to Greek Cypriot exploration efforts until the Cyprus issue has been resolved.
“It should not be forgotten that the main reason for the failure of the Cyprus Conference in 2017 was the Greek Cypriot side’s intransigent mentality, considering themselves as the sole owner of the island and the Turkish Cypriots as a minority,” the Turkish Foreign Ministry said.
“The fact that in the joint declaration there is no mention of the legitimate rights of the Turkish Cypriots on the natural resources of the island proves the persistence of this distorted mentality.”