President of the Republic of Cyprus Nicos Anastasiades has called on Turkey to meet its obligations and recognise Cyprus as a sovereign state.
Speaking after the fifth Southern European Union Summit (SEUS) drew to a close at the Filoxenia Conference Centre on Tuesday, Anastasiades also backed the resumption of talks with the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) under a UN-supported reunification plan, adding that a result that unites both Greek and Turkish Cypriots would be beneficial to the island.
“What we look forward to is to achieve a solution that will be functional so that it will be viable, always on the basis of the resolutions of the Security Council of the United Nations,” he said.
The president also pointed out “the need for Turkey to fulfil all its obligations toward Cyprus, including cooperation as well as effective implementation of the Readmission Agreement with the European Union, without discriminations”.
The Joint Declaration statement issued after the summit also called on Turkey to normalise relations with the Republic of Cyprus by “lifting the restrictions in its ports and airports/airspace towards Cyprus and EU companies related to Cyprus”.
The summit was attended by leaders of six other countries, including French President Emmanuel Macron, prime ministers Alexis Tsipras, Joseph Muscat, Giuseppe Conte, and Antonio Costa of Greece, Malta, Italy and Portugal respectively. Foreign Minister Joseph Borrell Fontelles represented Spain.
Turkey and hydrocarbons
Yucel Vural, a political scientist at the Eastern Mediterranean University, said it was “predictable” that since Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, the bloc’s influence on the island’s long-standing problem would increase.
“Now we are in that stage in which a group of EU members attempt to stress their direct involvement in the Cyprus dispute,” Vural told Al Jazeera, saying the EU’s role is beyond “a symbolic solidarity with the Greek Cypriot-led Republic of Cyprus”.
The discovery of offshore natural gas in 2014-2015, in which the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot sides both felt they had a stake, raised tensions around whether joint ownership of hydrocarbon resources was feasible with Turkey so heavily involved in Turkish Cyprus.
“The points agreed during the summit also demonstrate that the Southern EU members are not willing to accept Turkish Cypriot and Turkey’s position towards politicising the hydrocarbon issue in the intercommunal talks,” Vural said, referring to the peace talks aimed at ending the Mediterranean island’s partition since 1974.
Ankara’s recognition of Turkish Cypriots declaring the northern part of Cyprus as a breakaway state has been one of the main reasons Turkey faces an impasse when it comes to being accepted as a member of the EU.
“It seems that the conflict between Turkey and the Republic of Cyprus on hydrocarbon issues is being gradually transformed into a conflict between the EU and Turkey,” Vural said.
“Turkey’s conscious and unconscious initiatives towards distancing itself from the west and particularly its shift to Russia-Iran alliance in its foreign policy preferences seem to continue to deepen this conflict,” he continued.
“This, however, does not exclude the possibility that the Turkish Cypriot community can join the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus towards exploring the hydrocarbon resources in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ).”
Cyprus highest recipient of migrants in EU
The summit, which is based on issues of common European interest, also discussed migration, a keynote topic for the SEUS.
UN Migration Agency IOM reported that in the first 27 days of 2019, 5,757 migrants and refugees entered Europe by sea, a slight increase on the 5,502 arriving during the same period last year.
As the Balkan routes were closed off in northern Europe, migrants and refugees have increasingly used the Mediterranean to reach the continent, despite countries like Italy refusing to allow rescue vessels to dock on its shores.
Cyprus has witnessed a boom in the arrival of migrants, both by sea and across the porous 180km buffer zone, making it the recipient of the highest number per capita of asylum-seekers in the EU (6,000 compared to the island’s population of one million).
The joint declaration stated that the “disembarkation of rescued migrants in the Mediterranean should be addressed through permanent solutions, based on the principles of solidarity, responsibility and in the framework of international law, ensuring their order to safeguarding of lives in the Mediterranean”.
It also said it would reform the Common European Asylum System in a way that would guarantee solidarity and responsibility among member states in order to alleviate the pressures that southern EU states face but provided no concrete plan.
“I think Nicosia should take the initiative and propose particular measures in the EU,” said Andreas Theophanous, president of the Cyprus Center for European and International Affairs.
“It has the legitimacy to request and [will find] support in this case.”
According to Theophanous, there are those who would say that some aspects of the undocumented immigration process into Cyprus is supported by Turkey, under the dimension of “hybrid warfare”.
“Turkey has changed the population structure in the north with the majority being settlers,” he said. “Also, most of the people that come to Cyprus [from the buffer zone] wouldn’t have done so without Turkey tolerating that.”