Turkey seeking to wrench northern Cyprus from EU orbit – policy brief
Turkey is expanding its influence over northern Cyprus’ politics and economy, as it sees the breakaway republic through new geo-economic and geopolitical lenses, according to a policy brief published this week by Clingendael -- the Netherlands Institute of International Relations.
Turkey is aiming to ensure that the status quo on the divided island continues, meaning a de facto two-state solution that “brings northern Cyprus under increasing Turkish control and pulls it out of the EU’s orbit,” Engin Yüksel said in the brief by Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit (CRU).
Cyprus has been divided since a 1974 Turkish military intervention in response to a brief Greek Cypriot coup aimed at uniting it with Greece. The internationally recognised Republic of Cyprus became an EU member on behalf of the whole island in May 2004. It governs the southern two-thirds of Cyprus, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), founded in 1983 and only recognised by Turkey, the northern third.
“The primary objective of Ankara’s recent political and military interventions in northern Cyprus is to use the island as the linchpin for its maritime ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean, in terms of the geo-economics of claiming and exploring the hydrocarbon resources around the island and expanding its naval power more broadly,” Yüksel said in the report.
The breakaway territory’s economy relies heavily on financial assistance from Turkey and there is an increasing fear among indigenous Turkish Cypriots that the Turkish government is seeking to use its political muscle to Islamise and demographically re-shape the TRNC through migration and other means. Turkey says the concerns are unfounded.
Ankara which does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus as a legitimate state, says the TRNC should receive a fair share of income from the natural gas resources of the disputed island. Turkey also has territorial claims that overlap with Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
“The EU could initiate a multilateral initiative to resolve the eastern Mediterranean EEZ question in a bid to take the geo-economic interests out of the geopolitical equation,” Yüksel said.
Turkey is also politically empowering Turkish Cypriots who advocate for a two-state solution, Yüksel said. This is diminishing the prospects for the re-unification of the divided island, and from an EU perspective, it is not a desirable development, he said.
“The EU stands to lose as the prospect of settling the Cyprus question via a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation – its preferred option – fades from sight,” Yüksel said.
Numerous diplomatic efforts to reunify Cyprus under a federal model have failed. Cypriot leaders and representatives of Turkey, Greece and the United Kingdom - the three guarantor powers of the island - held informal talks in Geneva in April last year, to seek common ground for the re-opening of formal negotiations. No agreement was reached after the Turkish Cypriot side, backed by Turkey, called for the two-state solution. The Greek Cypriot side and Greece insisted on a bizonal, bicommunal federation, citing U.N. resolutions on Cyprus.
“Once the hydrocarbon business is in quieter waters, Ankara and Brussels could agree to a period of several years that allows communities across Cyprus to engage with one another in a bid to rebuild relations, discuss options for the future, and share experiences,” Yüksel said.
“It is only after an extended period of bottom-up debate and dialogue that any political solution for the future of the island can be meaningfully discussed and/or put to a plebiscite.”