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Nicosia says 'no'

Bernd Riegert / groMarch 15, 2016

Shortly before another fateful EU summit on refugees, small, crisis-stricken Cyprus is being obstructive, making an agreement with Turkey all the more difficult to reach. An analysis by DW's Bernd Riegert.

Zypern Donald Tusk und Nicos Anastasiades
Image: Reuters/Y. Kourtoglou

Two days before the next refugee summit between the EU and Turkey, it is far from certain that a deal will be struck. EU member Cyprus, which is not recognized by Turkey as a state, is being difficult. European Council President Donald Tusk, who wanted to persuade the Cypriots to keep quiet, was brusquely rebuffed on Tuesday in Nicosia.

Nicos Anastasiades, the President of Cyprus, (above right with Tusk) insists that Turkey fulfil its obligations before the Cypriot government agrees to the EU agreement with Turkey on the return and resettlement of refugees. The already difficult situation is getting trickier.

It is completely unclear whether the Turkish government will initiate a dialogue with Cyprus, whose northern part has illegally been occupied by Turkey for decades. Back at the beginning of EU accession negotiations eleven years ago, Turkey had committed itself to the implementation of the so-called "Ankara Protocol." It would mean that Cypriot ships and aircraft can control Turkish ports and airports. That would amount to a de facto recognition of the state of the Republic of Cyprus, which Turkey has always rejected to date.

Cyprus flexes its muscles

Over the years, the United Nations and the European Union have failed to advance the reunification process for the Turkish north and the Greek Cypriot south of the island. That is coming back to haunt them now. The unresolved Cyprus conflict and the refugee crisis are getting mixed up in a mess that will become difficult to untangle.

Karte von Zypern ENGLISCH

Cyprus knows that its vote counts in the current refugee crisis, and has not wasted time in using its power. Turkey's demands to re-open EU accession negotiations can only happen with Nicosia's consent.

What's next? Chancellor Angela Merkel will have to try to exert diplomatic pressure on Cyprus to bring Nicosia in line with her policy. She does not have much leverage. Money maybe, but Cyprus has just left the European rescue fund, so this will not get Merkel anywhere. Getting Ankara to make concessions to Cyprus will be at least as difficult.

Even if Merkel succeeds in skirting around the Cyprus problem, she still faces other problems before a possible breakthrough with Turkey. At the last summit with Turkey, Hungary threatened to veto. The Hungarian government does not want a relocation of refugees directly from Turkey to the EU.

This is precisely the core element of the agreement with Turkey. Hungarian Prime Minister Orban resists and rants about the Christian West and foreign infiltration. Yet Hungary just received 500 asylum applications last year. A grand total of 500!

Deutsche Welle Bernd Riegert
DW's Bernd Riegert

Much insecurity

It is also not certain whether the whole theoretical construct that Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Davutoglu have devised is even compatible with European and international law. The EU Commission is feverishly examining it. Positive results will probably be bent into shape and then announced this Wednesday.

The EU presidency has promised that there will be no legally questionable mass deportations from Greece to Turkey. As always, each individual case will be examined. The needed facilities for asylum seekers have yet to be established in Greece.

One effect of negotiations with Turkey and the abrupt closure of the Balkan Route can be seen already: The number of refugees who cross the sea from Turkey to Greece has gone down drastically. The intended deterrent has been working.

Wishful thinking in Brussels

It would be good for EU leaders to find a solution for the 40,000 people who are stranded in Idomeni or anywhere else in Greece. The EU Commissioner for Refugees has announced that he wants to send 6,000 of them a week to other EU countries. That is wishful thinking and will probably remain so unless Brussels manages a small negotiation miracle.

The much-touted "European solution" that focuses on border closure, deterrence and quotas has not yet been attained, but is almost within reach. It is very difficult to predict whether all the parties can be brought together: 28 EU states and Turkey, which is very aware of its strong bargaining position.

If not, the Chancellor's motto applies: If not at this summit, then the next one. If the EU succeeds, it will save itself from collapse but must yield to the benevolence of Turkey. What awaits the many refugees and migrants that will have to remain in Turkey is another matter.