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Cyprus Opens Negotiations with European Union
March 30, 1998 No. 17/98


On March 31, 1998, the Republic of Cyprus opened formal accession negotiations with the European Union (EU). Former President George Vassiliou will head the Cyprus delegation to the negotiations.

The American Hellenic Institute (AHI) welcomes this historic event. It endorses the comment of Cyprus Government spokesman Christos Stylianides that the negotiations open "a new era in the island's political and social life." AHI hopes that the negotiations will proceed constructively and that Cyprus will soon be able to assume its rightful place within the EU family of nations.

Cyprus has a long association with the EU. In 1972 it signed an Association Agreement providing for the gradual elimination of trade barriers and the creation of a customs union. In 1990 Cyprus applied for membership to the European Community and in 1993 the European Commission issued a formal opinion declaring Cyprus eligible for membership. In 1995 the EU Council of Ministers initiated a structured dialogue with Cyprus with a view to opening membership negotiations six months after the end of the EU Intergovernmental Conference which was then in progress.

In 1997 the EU Luxembourg Summit decided to open negotiations with Cyprus and five other applicant countries on March 30, 1998. On January 15, 1998 British Foreign Secretary and current EU President Robin Cook stated, "In our view, there is no legal obstacle for Cyprus to become a full European Union member. On the contrary, we consider Cyprus as being one of the strongest candidates."

On March 25, Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Michael Bilirakis (R-FL) introduced into the House of Representatives H.Con.Res. 252 stating that Cyprus' accession to the EU "could serve as a catalyst for resolving the situation in Cyprus." AHI welcomes this resolution.

Cyprus' accession to the EU has the potential to increase living standards for all residents of the island, to act as a catalyst for a settlement of the Cyprus problem, and to enhance regional stability. AHI notes with satisfaction that on March 27 the State Department spokesman endorsed this view, stating that the prospect of Cyprus joining the EU "can be a positive catalyst in a settlement of the disputes that separate the communities in Cyprus."

In contrast to this positive potential, the Turkish Cypriot leadership has adopted a negative attitude. It has declined President Glafcos Clerides' invitation to "to nominate representatives to be included as full members of the Cypriot team which will conduct the negotiations." It has rejected a request from UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to resume bicommunal talks. Following his March 26 meeting in Geneva with Mr. Rauf Denktash, Mr. Annan expressed his disappointment at the Turkish Cypriot attitude. A UN spokesman regretted that "that it was not possible to find a common basis on which to continue the process of negotiations between the leaders of the two communities".

This negative attitude, which reflects the views of the military dominated government of Turkey, ignores and contradicts the views of broad Turkish Cypriot opinion. According to a poll conducted in December by the Cyprus Public Opinion and Market Research Company (COMAR) an overwhelming majority (89.6%) of Turkish Cypriots favor joining the EU in the expectation that this will confer tangible benefits in such areas as education, employment, health, and security. A sizable majority (76.6%) also believed that EU accession would allow Turkish Cypriots to close the economic gap with Greek Cypriots.

AHI General Counsel Eugene T. Rossides stated:

"The opening of these negotiations is an historic occasion. Cyprus' early entry into the EU is clearly and strongly in the U.S. national interest. We call upon the Administration to give full support to Cyprus during the negotiation process. We also call upon the Administration to make clear to the Turkish general staff and the Turkish Cypriot leadership that it will condemn any action by them to impede or interfere with the negotiation process."