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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 April, 2004, 21:03 GMT 22:03 UK
Analysis: Cyprus result adds to EU woes
By Gerald Butt
Regional analyst

Barbed wire separating Turkish-occupied Nicosia to the Greek Cypriot-controlled area of Nicosia
On 1 May this will become the EU's most easterly border
The results of the two referendums in Cyprus were as expected.

But the margin by which Greek Cypriots rejected the UN plan to reunite the island was not.

Far from providing a clear and final solution to the 30-year crisis that has kept the island partitioned, the outcome of the referendum has created a host of problems - for Cyprus, and for the EU.

And it has cast a shadow over Cyprus' EU accession on 1 May, with only the southern part gaining tbe benefits of EU membership.

While President Tassos Papadopoulos said after the referendum results were announced that efforts to reunify the island would continue, the EU and the UN insisted that the latest version of the plan was the final one.

And hopes that a close result might justify the holding of a second referendum on the plan have been dashed.

Formidable opposition

During the build-up to the vote, the voices of Greek Cypriot supporters of the EU deal were continually drowned out by those of the rejectionists.

Cyprus

While former Presidents Glafcos Clerides and George Vassilliou campaigned for a "yes" vote, they faced formidable opposition from Mr Papadopoulos and Akel, the powerful and influential Communist party.

Those in favour of the plan accused the government of failing in its duty to explain the complex, 9,000-page plan to the public.

Instead, they said, ministers put out disinformation and highlighted issues that were designed to persuade voters to reject the plan.

Detractors of the unification proposals - the product of two years of negotiations involving senior UN diplomats and the personal supervision of Kofi Anan - cited security fears as one of the main reasons for rejecting it.

In particular they objected to the provisions that allowed Turkey to keep troops - albeit a tiny fraction of the current force of 30,000 - in northern Cyprus, and which enabled Turkish settlers to remain there.

Predictable

The voting pattern among Greek Cypriots, unusually, cut across party lines.

The heated debate caused family rifts and broke up friendships.

In the north, by contrast, the result was much as predicted and followed the pattern that has emerged in Turkish Cypriot politics over recent years - with supporters of reunification and EU membership on one side, and the nationalists, headed by veteran politician Rauf Denktash, on the other.

The bigger question now is how the outcome of the referendums will affect political life in Cyprus and the island's relationship with the EU.

'Undiplomatic'

While there are many uncertainties, one eventuality is beyond doubt - on 1 May, the Republic of Cyprus will become a member of the EU.

I feel cheated by the Greek Cypriot government
EU Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen
Equally certain is that it will receive a very cool welcome from EU officials and from most other member states.

The European Commission, in a statement after the referendum outcome was known, regretted that "a unique opportunity to bring about a solution to the long-lasting Cyprus issue has been missed".

But the diplomatic tone of that statement camouflages the fact that President Papadopoulos stands accused by Europe of bad faith by refusing to negotiate on any of the main issues.

"I am going to be very undiplomatic now," EU Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen said three days before the referendum.

"I feel cheated by the Greek Cypriot government."

Rewards

So having for so long watched northern Cyprus, and Mr Denktash in particular, being blamed by the international community for being the intransigent parties, Greek Cypriots will have the unusual experience of being cast in that role themselves.

They may also feel uncomfortable seeing Turkish Cypriots being rewarded by the EU for their acceptance of the reunification plan.

The likelihood is that Europe will lift the trade embargoes that have been a major factor in the impoverishment of northern Cyprus.

There is also a possibility that some governments will break with their past policies and decide to recognise the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

Over the past three decades, it has only had formal ties with Turkey.

Turkish Cypriot politicians may not encourage the international community to recognise their self-declared state, seeking instead the acceptance of the status of a Cypriot constituent state, as it would have become - alongside the constituent Greek Cypriot state - under the UN's federal plan for Cyprus.

Turkish negotiations

For its part, the Turkish government will hope to be rewarded for its support for the reunification plan by being informed next December of a date for EU accession negotiations.

But it must also be aware that the Republic of Cyprus, as a member of the EU, will have the right to veto Turkey's application.

In Cyprus itself, in one sense nothing much will change, with the island continuing to be separated by a buffer zone manned by UN troops.

But in another sense there will be a change, for the line that divides the island and runs through the middle of the capital, Nicosia, will become the most easterly border of the EU.

Deciding on the status of a frontier running through a sovereign EU nation and abutting an unrecognised state is just one of the many problems that European politicians must tackle.

For them, the outcome of the two referendums could have been worse - but only just.


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