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Europe

EU Hits Greek Cypriots in Pocketbook after 'No' Vote

Angered by Greek Cypriots' vote against reunification, EU foreign ministers pledge to help push the divided island's Turkish residents back into the international fold.

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Brussels says it will reward Turk Cypriots for approving reunion

At a meeting in Luxembourg on Monday, the EU's top diplomats praised Turkish Cypriots for their affirmative vote on a United Nations plan to reunite the island. The vote came in the face of a landslide rejection of the same referendum by Greek Cypriots on the southern half of the island.

In a diplomatic slap at Greek Cypriots, the foreign ministers also ordered that the €259 million ($307 million) that had been earmarked for implementing a settlement between the Greeks and Turks on the island instead be placed in an economic development fund for the Turkish half of the island, which has been the subject of an international embargo since Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974.

'An affront to Europe'

Though Turks on the island voted in favor of reunification, the Greeks rejected it, meaning the southern half will be the only part of Cyprus to enter the EU on May 1.

"This is an affront to Europe," Belgian Foreign Minister Louis Michel told the news agency Reuters. "Those who campaigned 'no' may perhaps not have measured all the consequences."

In a joint statement, the EU council "expressed its determination to ensure that the people of Cyprus will soon achieve their shared destiny as citizens of a united Cyprus in the European Union."

An audibly irritated Günter Verheugen, the EU's commissioner for enlargement, said: "Under no circumstances should we allow a situation in which Turkish Cypriots would be punished for the fact that a settlement could not be reached. We will have to cooperate with the authorities in the north." Among the options being considered by the EU is the opening of an official mission in northern Cyprus.

Unification: So close, so far away

Never in the 30 years of the island's divided history had reunification been so close, yet so far.

Volksabstimmung Zypern Nein in der Zeitung Reaktionen

People read newspapers in central Nicosia, Cyprus

The Greek Cypriots simply didn't want it, and brashly underlined the fact by voting against with an overwhelming 76 percent. Their 'no' spells out the end of Turkish Cypriots' hopes to become EU citizens on May 1 and keeps them locked on the far side of the free-trade barrier. Recognized only by Turkey, the northern part of the divided island can only export to one country - Turkey.

The ballot is a major blow for the impoverished north, where per capita income is currently four times less than that of Greek Cypriots.

Anger and frustration

The sentiment of "missed opportunity" has been echoed around the world, but the reality is that it leaves the EU looking pretty silly. EU Enlargement Commissioner, Günter Verheugen has sharply criticized the outcome of the vote, reminding the Greek-Cypriot government that it was the Greek government which had pushed for a unified Cyprus in the first place, and that the Greek side had pledged to bring its people to agree to the UN reunification plan, with the pay-off that Cyprus would be accepted into the union.

If ever there were any fears that the plan, designed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, might be rejected, it was that the Turkish Cypriots might not play along. But the tables turned and 65 percent voted in favor of joining with their Greek neighbors.

Ultimately the Greek Cypriots objected to the plan on the grounds that it would not allow Greek Cypriots who fled south in 1974 to return home, and that it would allow Turkish troops to stay on the island for too long, which in turn raised security concerns. That was all it took for what could have been a united future to become history. Verheugen slammed the reasoning. "No-one can seriously believe that an EU member state could be threatened by Turkish troops," he said. "Citing inadequate security guarantees is so far removed from reality that I just don't believe it."

Second chance?

In response to the poll, Greek Cypriot President Tassos Papandopoulos stressed that his people meant the Turkish Cypriots no ill will. He added that his government would make specific proposals to the EU ministers to enable the Turkish Cypriots to enjoy the benefits of their country's accession to the EU as much as possible. He also urged them not to abandon efforts to reunite the island within the EU. But Günter Verheugen said he believed the opportunity has passed. "My impression is that there will be no new United Nations initiative and I don't see any chance to negotiate," he said. "I don't know who could lead negotiations and moreover I don't see any further opportunity for compromise. What is on the table is the best possible result."

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