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19 June, 2024
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The Turkish formula for Cyprus is challenging

The European Union is not optimistic about developments in the near future with either Erdogan or Kilicdaroglu

Pavlos Xanthoulis

Pavlos Xanthoulis

A complex equation for the Cyprus problem is foreseen by circles at the EU headquarters, regardless of who wins Turkey's elections. This is because neither of the two main candidates, Tayyip Erdogan nor Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has the resolution of the Cyprus problem on their agenda. As a well-informed source tells us, 'whether Mr. Erdogan remains in the presidential chair or Mr. Kilicdaroglu ousts him, the prospect of launching developments in the Cyprus problem, through the EU, is not visible, at least in the immediate future.' This de facto limits the possibility of implementing the efforts of Nicosia, which is looking for a new initiative on the Cyprus problem with the more active involvement of the EU, immediately and without delay.

The European source shed light on the priorities of the two main candidates, Erdogan and Kilicdaroglu, when they outlined their agendas:

If Kemal Kilicdaroglu wins the election, he plans to bring immediate changes to Turkey, starting with "cleaning up his own backyard." This includes restructuring the Erdogan-controlled Turkish army and implementing judicial reform, as the current regime controls the judiciary. Kilicdaroglu is also expected to focus on the economy, inflation, and the status of Turkey's Central Bank.

Kilicdaroglu aims to improve Turkey's image on the global stage by prioritizing democratic freedoms and the rule of law. He may attempt to meet some of the EU's demands, such as the release of political prisoner Osman Kavala, which would be applauded by the European political audience. This could buy Kilicdaroglu time to discuss broader issues in Euro-Turkish relations at a later point, including Greek-Turkish relations and the Cyprus issue. However, the outcome remains uncertain.

If Tayyip Erdogan wins the election, the same source who spoke to "K" suggests that there will be no significant changes in the Cyprus issue or the Greek-Turkish dispute. The source notes that not much is expected to improve or worsen.

According to the source, Erdogan will try to maintain a balance between the West and Russia. However, he will prioritize Russia, given the economic gains made after Putin's invasion of Ukraine and the imposition of European sanctions on Moscow. Erdogan is cautious not to implement these sanctions. He sees another window of opportunity to benefit from developments, especially as the agreement to export Ukrainian grain to Turkey expires on May 18, four days after the first round of elections.

Despite these expectations, the outcome of the elections remains uncertain, and it is difficult to predict how the situation will unfold.

It is understandable that Mr. Erdogan will not only try to maintain his role in "averting a food crisis," but many, especially in the EU, consider him "indispensable" to ensure the continuation of the Kyiv-Moscow agreement. As for relations with the EU, they don't seem to be a top priority for the Turkish President. If re-elected, he is expected to continue treading two boats - Russia and the West - to make Turkey a global power that can continue its "mediating role" without compensation.

At the same time, the Turkish President is expected to continue engaging with the US, primarily through arms programs such as the purchase and upgrade of F-16s. Concerning the EU, he is estimated to "continue exploiting the migration issue," mainly securing the major countries of the Union, including Germany. Erdogan is also expected to continue investing in upgrading the Customs Union and keeping Turkey's accession path formally alive, even though it is officially frozen. In terms of Turkey's domestic situation, no significant changes are expected in the areas of human rights and the rule of law.

It is possible that Turkey will make some moves, but they are estimated to be limited to sensationalism and unlikely to bring about any substantial changes to the picture that Brussels has been recording in Turkey's progress reports in recent years.

The upcoming presidential elections in Turkey, scheduled for May 14, do not prioritize the resolution of the Cyprus problem. Neither Tayyip Erdogan nor Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the two main candidates, are expected to make significant efforts to address the issue. However, the government of Nicosia believes that the EU can play a role in breaking the deadlock by linking Turkey's positive agenda to the Cyprus settlement and by initiating the adoption of time-bound dossiers, such as the one on upgrading the Customs Union, which is Ankara's main demand to the EU.

Although "nothing can be ruled out," a European diplomatic source revealed that when the EU raised the Cyprus issue in recent contacts with Ankara, the Turkish government referred to the proposal of the Turkish Cypriot community, which set the acceptance of "sovereign equality" as a precondition. The same source noted that UN officials conveyed the great distance that separates the parties and the need for a final settlement under the UN, with the support of the EU. The EU's position is "firm" on a solution to the Cyprus problem based on the agreed framework of a bi-communal/bicommunal federation. 

[This article was first published in Kathimerini's printed Sunday edition and translated from its Greek original]

Cyprus  |  Turkey  |  Greece  |  elections

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