Jack Straw's 2006 Cyprus Agenda

by Giorgos Kentas,

PhD candidate at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels

Research Fellow, Research Center - Intercollege


On 24-27 January, the British Foreign Secretary, Mr. Jack Straw, visited Cyprus, Turkey and Greece. A Foreign and Commonwealth Office press release said that during all three visits “the Foreign Secretary will discuss the prospects for a settlement in Cyprus, Turkey’s EU accession negotiations and bilateral issues”. At a press conference in Nicosia (25/01/06) Mr. Straw said that he regards Cyprus as one of his “highest priorities for 2006”.  He stressed that “the UK has never seen itself as a mediator” but it stands “ready to support the two communities in seeking a solution”. It is worth remembering here that in his response to the Second Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee (April 2005), Mr. Straw noted that the British government continues to “believe that the Annan Plan represents the only realistic basis for a settlement”. He equally recognized, however, “that any further negotiation will necessary involve some changes to the plan, and that it will be necessary for the outcome of any such negotiations to be able to win the support of a clear majority in each of the two communities on the island”. On top of that, Mr. Straw maintained, the British Government “would look favourably” the offer of approximately half of its Sovereign Base Area territory into facilitating a Cyprus settlement[1].


Back to the Nicosia press conference (January 2006), Mr. Straw contended that the ongoing situation is “bad for Cyprus, bad for the Eastern Mediterranean and bad for the European Union”. The question we need to address here is “What would make the situation better in the eyes of the UK”. Mr. Straw admitted that the settlement of the Cyprus Issue does not make a foreseeable goal for the immediate future. Hence, the UK is interested in the urgent issues that are surfaced before the concerned parties. Although the opening of fresh negotiations over the Cyprus issue and the final settlement of the problem is a high priority for the UK, Mr. Straw’s primary concern is to have some critical matters –which potentially affect British interests– settled in due time.


Just after he left Nicosia, Mr. Straw, traveled to Turkey. There he made his incentives more clear. In his speech, Mr. Straw stressed that “both the European Union and Turkey have responsibilities they must fulfill in regard of Cyprus: Turkey to apply the Ankara Protocol fully to all member states and to normalize relations with them as soon as possible; we to find a way of ending the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots and for them to trade with the rest of the European Union”. “These”, Mr. Straw continued, “are separate tracks but they must both work”. The key phrase here is Mr. Straw’s assumption that both –Turkey’s obligation to implement the Ankara Protocol and EU’s responsibility to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community– must work. The crucial question is “How could both work”.


First we need to examine the British attitude towards the “end of Turkish Cypriots’ isolation”. In the April Report[2], Mr. Straw held that the British Government believes “that a direct trading relationship between the EU and the north of Cyprus would help narrow the economic gap between north and south, thus leading to increased opportunities for economic cooperation and business ventures between the two communities. It would improve the climate for foreign direct investment in the north, and would provide the incentive to harmonize with the acquis in key areas and improve the infrastructure in the north”. Furthermore, Mr. Straw stressed that he continues to believe “that direct flights between the UK and north Cyprus would contribute materially to ending the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots and would contribute to the prospects for reunification. It therefore remains our position that we would in principle support the commencement of direct flights to northern Cyprus”. In a British view, the end of Turkish Cypriots’ isolation includes, among other things, direct trading relationship between the EU and the Turkish Cypriot community and direct flights between (at least) the UK and the northern occupied part of Cyprus.


Someone can claim that Mr. Straw’s thesis that both –Turkey’s obligation to implement the Ankara Protocol and EU’s responsibility to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots– must work, implies that there is a relation between those issues.


During Mr. Straw’s visit in Nicosia, the Turkish Foreign Minister, Abdullah Gul, proposed an Action Plan for Cyprus. Mr. Gul said, among other things, that Turkey would open its sea ports, air space and airport to Cyprus’ vessels and air carriers respectively, if the ports and the airports in the northern occupied Cyprus open for international traffic of goods, persons and services under Turkish Cypriot management. Furthermore, Mr. Gul proposed that special arrangements should be made for the practical inclusion of “North Cyprus”, as an economic entity, into the European Union’s customs union. In short, Turkey linked the implementation of the Ankara Protocol with the upgrading of the international, political and financial, status of the Turkish Cypriot community.


In an immediate response to the Turkish proposal, Mr. Straw said that it is “an important statement which deserves to be taken seriously”[3]. Mr. Straw welcomed Mr. Gul's proposals on Cyprus and said that “these proposals should be examined with care”[4]. EU Enlargement Commissioner, Mr. Olli Rehn, and UN Secretary General, Mr. Kofi Annan, said that they will examine Mr. Gul’s proposals as well.


It is obvious that there are some similarities between the Turkish proposal and the British position over the implementation of the Ankara Protocol and the improvement of the economic and political conditions of the Turkish Cypriot community. As there are and some differences as well. They both agree on direct trading relations between the EU and the Turkish Cypriot community. They also agree on direct flights form the occupied northern Cyprus to international destinations. Their main difference, however, is that, while Britain insists that the implementation of the Ankara Protocol is independent from the financial and the political status of the Turkish Cypriots, Turkey maintains that the two issues are directly related. Mr. Straw’s response to Mr. Gul’s proposal, however, gives the impression that there is room for reconciliation.


The government of Cyprus’ position –as well as the EU’s official position– is clearly different from the Ankara’s proposal and the British novel position. In a unanimous Declaration by the EU’s member states during the UK Presidency, “the European Community and its Member States expect full, non-discriminatory implementation of the Additional Protocol, and the removal of all obstacles to the free movement of goods, including restrictions on means of transport” [5]. The same Declaration makes clear to Turkey that it “must apply the Protocol fully to all EU Member States”. The 25 members states stressed that “the EU will monitor this closely and evaluate full implementation in 2006. The European Community and its Member States stress that the opening of negotiations on the relevant chapters depends on Turkey’s implementation of its contractual obligations to all Member States. Failure to implement its obligations in full will affect the overall progress in the negotiations”.


The issue at stake now is whether the EU’s member states will stick on their Declaration for unconditional and non-discriminatory implementation of the Ankara Protocol or whether, some of them, will call for a “holistic examination” of the implementation of the Protocol and the financial (and political) status of the Turkish Cypriot Community. Turkey has already declared that it will not implement the Ankara Protocol unless it gets some trade-offs for the Turkish Cypriot community. The government of Cyprus, on the other hand, insists that Turkey should implement the Protocol within 2006. At the same time, the Cypriot government put on the table the idea of the opening of the Famagusta port for common use by the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots. This proposal includes the return of the fenced area of Varosha to its legal citizens.


[1] The Greek Cypriot Community maintains that the issue of British Bases in Cyprus should be discussed from the scratch. Greek Cypriot Leadership holds that the British offer intended to keep the issue of the future of its Bases out of the negotiations’ agenda.

[2] See Second Report of the Foreign Affairs Committee Session 2004–2005 Cyprus. Response of the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. Presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs. April 2005 (Cm 6506).

[3] See Statement by Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, Nicosia, 25 January 2006.

[4] See Straw Comments on Turkey’s EU Accession Talks (25/01/06). Source: Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Speeches (http://www.fco.gov.uk)

[5] See Declaration by the European Community and its Member States in response to the declaration by Turkey made at the time of signature of the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement (21/09/05)


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