Thursday 5 July 2012

Reactions to an FT article on Cyprus

I returned from a consulting trip to Istanbul this evening to read what must be one of the worse articles ever published in the Financial Times.

My critique of the article, Cyprus juggles EU and Russian support, is based purely on facts, and I hope it will be interpreted by the readers of this blog as such.

The article makes its bias clear from the first two paragraphs: 

If European leaders hoped Cyprus would use its turn at the helm of the EU’s rotating presidency to signal a break from its longtime benefactors in Moscow, the country’s Russian-educated communist president made clear on Thursday they would be disappointed.

A week after becoming the fifth eurozone country to seek a bailout from Brussels, Demetris Christofias said his government would continue to seek rescue loans from the Kremlin – in essence, playing one potential creditor off the other.

While Cyprus has requested European Union support, no offer has been made yet. A “Troika” evaluation mission to Nicosia started this week, but the complete package will not be defined for some weeks to come.

Given that neither Russia nor the Troika are “bidding” to lend money to Cyprus, I fail to see how this amounts to playing one creditor off against the other.

Cyprus is following multiple courses of action to redress its urgent financial problems, which mainly involve bank recapitalisation. As a sovereign country, it has every right and indeed the responsibility to do so.

The German bilateral relationship with Russia is far stronger in terms of trade, investment and gas (see for instance former Chancellor Gerhard Schroder’s chairmanship of North Stream). If we apply the author’s logic to Germany, should we understand that Germany too needs to separate itself from “longtime benefactors in Moscow?”

It’s also worthwhile noting that there are far more Cypriots studying and working in the UK than in Russia, and far more British citizens living and visiting Cyprus each year than Russians. Britain maintains two sovereign military bases in the Republic of Cyprus with 3,500 troops stationed there. I therefore have to question the systematic attempt to demonize Russia in this article, or for that matter, the Cypriot relationship with Russia.

The author also misstates the facts of Cyprus’s relationship with Turkey:

Cyprus has not only blocked progress on Turkey’s membership of the EU but it has prevented the EU from working more closely with Nato to co-ordinate European defence policies.

This statement is both factually wrong and misleading:

·    It is wrong in that the Cypriot veto over Turkey’s membership in the European Defence Agency has prompted Turkey’s veto of EU coordination with NATO. Cyprus is not blocking EU coordination with NATO—Turkey is. This is an elementary fact which should have been checked prior to publication.

·    It is misleading because it fails to mention that via the Ankara Declaration, Turkey neither recognises the Republic of Cyprus, nor has it opened its ports and airports to Cypriot ships or airplanes. This is what has prompted Cyprus to veto Turkish membership in the EDA, but has also prompted the European Union to freeze negotiations on 8 chapters of the Acquis communautaire.

·    It fails to include the fact that Nicholas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel have both called for an alternative membership status for Turkey, and that this too has played a negative political role in Turkey’s EU accession process.

The German Foreign Ministry does a far better job of explaining the current status of Turkey’s accession negotiations:

When a large number of Central and Eastern European countries joined the EU in 2004, it became necessary to include them in the EU-Turkish customs union. To that end, the Ankara Protocol, an additional protocol to the Ankara Agreement, was signed on 29 July 2005. Turkey issued a declaration expressing its continuing non-recognition of the Republic of Cyprus and explicitly excluding Cyprus from the customs union. The European Union issued a counter-declaration rejecting this interpretation and thus re establishing the obligation to include the Republic of Cyprus without exception. Turkey is nonetheless still failing to uphold the free movement of goods created within the customs union in the form of free access to Turkish territory for Cypriot ships, aircraft and heavy goods vehicles. The Council of the European Union has repeatedly criticized this treaty violation, deciding in December 2006 on a partial suspension of accession negotiations. Until the Cyprus conflict is resolved and Turkey implements the Ankara Protocol without discrimination, eight chapters in the negotiations will remain unopened and no chapter will be closed. Because of the continuing lack of progress on the implementation of the Ankara Protocol, the Council has renewed this decision annually since 2006.

In reference to President Christofias’ comments on Turkey, it fails to mention that these occur in the backdrop of Turkish threats against Cypriot oil and gas exploration or the Turkish intention to freeze relations with the EU over the Cypriot presidency.

I bring up these facts solely to illustrate the full picture—not to justify the political decisions on any side which has led Turkey and Cyprus into this regrettable situation.

I honestly have to question how an article with such visible bias, and with such a one-sided view of the situation, can be published in the Financial Times, particularly coming at the beginning of the Cypriot EU Presidency.

I've had the enormous privilege of working over the years in all three countries: Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey. Through my work, I've interacted with thousands of business owners and managers in this time, as well as journalists, NGO members, government officials, and many others. 

Like many others, I believe that Greece, Turkey and Cyprus have more to gain from working together constructively and peacefully rather than engendering a permanent state of military and political aggression. Geographic reality, together with our shared culture and our tremendous economic synergies and potential should make that obvious to anyone.

What should also be obvious are that while there are serious problems on all sides of the political equation, well-meaning partners could solve these if we would put aside the vested interests, stereotypes, political posturing and the bitter memories of the past, and concentrate on our shared—and inevitable—future.

This would require a rational, post-nationalistic approach to policy, which I believe citizens in all three countries are ready for, and indeed would welcome. I have particular hopes that the positive impacts of globalisation and mobility, and the common interests of younger generations will one day make this vision a reality.

Unfortunately, articles like this do more to encourage misconceptions and hostility than to present an accurate and objective picture of current affairs.

A list of sources follows for anyone interested in a more complete picture of the political situation between Cyprus and Turkey.

© Philip Ammerman, 2012

Turkey rejects EU Cyprus Proposals (Hurriyet Daily News)

EU Enlargement: Turkey. (Germany Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Nord Stream AG (Wikipedia)

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