Thursday, July 08, 2004

The Greeks do not even bear gifts

As our readers will recall there was a slight awkwardness in Cyprus a week before the great enlargement date of May 1, 2004. A referendum was conducted in both parts of the island on some form of reunification: the Turks voted yes, the Greeks, encouraged by their government and certain church leaders, who told the population that they could get a better deal if they held out, voted no. We have now reached pay-back time.

Far from offering the Greek Cypriots a better deal – and one has to remember that because of the vote, their government becomes the official representative of Cyprus on the European Council – the Commission has put together, as it promised back in April a package to help the Turkish Republic of Cyprus (TRNC).

This, as Günther Verheugen, the Enlargement Commissioner has said, is a reward for the Turkish Cypriots, though, almost certainly, the idea of annoying the Greek Cypriots would have had its appeal.

The Commission’s proposals include a 259 million euro aid package, though given the fate of previous aid packages to other countries, that may be a mixed blessing. Of greater importance (and annoyance to the Greeks of Cyprus and Greece) is the proposal to create direct trading links between the EU and TRNC, under which the latter will be able to sell its produce under preferential terms. The goods will have to be clearly labelled and certified to make sure that Turkey, at present TRNC’s only friend and supporter, will not import its own goods to have them re-exported under those terms. Turkey, as a potential applicant to the EU, has a completely different set or trading agreements.

The Greeks of Cyprus and of Greece have protested. They do not want direct trading agreements. The arrangements for the UN-policed “Green Line” are perfectly adequate, say Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou and Government spokesman, Kypros Chrysostomides.

They agreed that there are positive elements to the plan but, Chrysostomides added, “there are also elements that foster secessionist tendencies”. Given that the present system has existed since 1974, when, in response to an Athens backed Greek Cypriot coup whose aim was a unification between the two countries, Turkey invaded the northern part of the island, it seems rather odd to suggest that some change will foster anything. What on earth will Greek intransigence foster?

The Greek foreign ministry spokesman, Yiorgos Koumoutsakos, said that the EU plan had certain “negative aspects”. He liked the idea of aid being given to the TRNC, probably knowing from experience that aid is the best way of keeping a country down, but he, too, opposed the idea of direct trading links. Trade, he and his Cypriot colleagues thought, should continue to go through the South Cyprus ports in the Greek area.

The plan has to be approved by all EU members and the vote needs to be unanimous. All but Greece and Cyprus appear to favour it, but Cyprus (which is really Greek Cyprus) has threatened to fight it and to go to the European Court of Justice. The basis of their complaint is not immediately clear but perhaps they will use the old boxing cry: “We wuz robbed.” Or, perhaps, they will be bought off, though funds are a little low at the moment in the EU as well.

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