Cyprus deal offered carrot but no stick

Greek Cypriots and the European Union share an indifference to Turks.

Turkish Cypriots voted in support of a referendum this week to unify the island of Cyprus. Not surprisingly, Greek Cypriots voted against unification after decades of conflict with the Turks and recent widespread media campaigns against the measure. U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan made a valiant but futile effort to find a solution, but the 9,000-page agreement was doomed to fail. The public referendum allowed either side veto power, rendering weeks of negotiation null and void. But the outcome might reflect a larger social reality – Greek Cypriots are loath to accept Turks, and so is the European Union.

The Turkish north has been subject to economic sanctions since Turkey’s invasion during a 1974 Greek coup. Many Greeks opposed reunification because they hold fast to the belief that Turkey’s invasion, and subsequent land grab, was illegal. Until now, the international community largely supported this view. The so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a constitutional democracy, is not recognized as a legal state – it cannot export goods, offer direct flights or participate in any international body, from the United Nations to soccer clubs.

Whatever their views on the 1974 invasion, the EU and United States now plan to provide financial assistance to the North, essentially offering a “carrot” for Turkish cooperation to end the long conflict. But, for their part, Greeks face no “stick,” a diplomatic misstep that clearly led to Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos’ bold declaration before the vote; in so many words, he told Greek Cypriots not to bother with unification, reminding voters they are guaranteed EU membership with or without the Turks.

Cyprus’ situation is indicative of bigger problems within the EU system. As the union expands, officials must consider that blind, economically self-serving expansionism is not a responsible posture. In the long run, member states must face more complex moral issues than their positions on the death penalty; they must examine the moral ramifications of exclusion.

Muslims and Turks have powerful reasons to question whether their exclusion is based on religion and race. The EU’s temporary financial support is not a sufficient substitute for normal diplomatic relations and will only postpone a long overdue crisis of conscience.