The third factor was, of course, the EU’s promise to the Greek Cypriot government on EU membership. That promise aroused the fears of the Turkish Cypriots that they would end up outside the European Community. A generation gap was noticed between older Turkish Cypriots, who still remembered the ethnic violence of the 1960s, and the many younger ones who were unhappy with the isolation and economic stagnation in the north. Young, well-educated Turkish Cypriots seemed to see how Turkish nationalists on the mainland exploited the Cyprus conflict for their own political purposes.
The Turkish Cypriots opened the border
The new government in Turkey must also act cautiously out of consideration for Turkish nationalists in its own country. Turkish military accused Prime Minister Erdoğan and his ministers of wanting to “sell” Cyprus to the Greeks.
The then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had drawn up a new plan for the reunification of Cyprus. Erdoğan called on Turkish Cypriot President Rauf Denktaş to show a little more cooperation in the negotiations on the Annan peace plan. At the same time, mass demonstrations were held in northern Cyprus, demanding that Denktaş adopt the plan or resign.
However, the Turkish Cypriot leadership maintained its tough line and overthrew the Annan plan in March 2003. The new president of the Greek Cypriots, Tassos Papadopoulos, did not welcome Annan’s plan either. The Greek Cypriots, who had previously pushed for reunification, were no longer as anxious; possibly it was also for them about a generational change. But because Denktaş stopped, the Greek Cypriots did not have to show their cards.
In April 2003, Denktaş suddenly opened the border between northern and southern Cyprus to anyone who wanted to make short visits to the opposite side. Probably Denktaş had been persuaded to do so by Erdoğan. Soon, eager Cypriots lined up on both sides of the border crossings. By the end of the year, most had visited the opposite side of the island.
The Greek Cypriots voted no
After the border was opened, nothing was the same as before. When the Turkish Cypriots elected a new parliament in December 2003, half of the votes went to parties that said yes to the UN peace plan for the reunification of Cyprus. The elderly Rauf Denktaş remained as Turkish Cypriot president, but the new Prime Minister Mehmet Ali Talat was among those who wanted to sign the plan.
As Cyprus’ accession to the EU drew ever closer, the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriots resumed negotiations on the UN plan, eagerly cheered on by an expectant world. Another plan required, among other things, separate referendums in southern and northern Cyprus on reunification. The parties eventually agreed to let Kofi Annan formulate the final version of the plan himself.
At the last minute, however, Turkish Prime Minister Erdoğan persuaded the UN Secretary-General to make a number of changes in favor of the Turkish side. Among other things, some troops from Turkey would be allowed to remain in Cyprus even after reunification. The Turkish Prime Minister was thus able to appease the military and Turkish nationalists of his own country. The changes, however, fueled the Greek Cypriots’ distrust of the plan.
In order for a reunification to take place, it was required that both Greek and Turkish Cypriots would vote yes to the UN plan. Both ethnic groups were urged by their presidents to vote no. The Turkish Cypriots still voted yes, but since the Greek Cypriots voted no, there was no reunification this time either.
Cyprus and the EU
When the EU promised Cyprus membership, it was assumed that the Cypriots would be reunited before then. That did not happen, but the promise was already given. On 1 May 2004, less than a week after the referendums, a still divided Cyprus became a member of the EU. In practice, membership applied to the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government.
However, the former EU members, like the Americans, wanted to reward the Turkish Cypriots for voting in favor of reunification. There was no talk of recognizing the Turkish Cypriot state, but the European Commission proposed that Turkish Cypriots should receive both assistance and the right to trade directly with the EU. However, the Greek Cypriot government did not want northern Cyprus to trade directly with the EU, and to prevent this, the whole proposal was delayed. Much of the aid money froze inside, and in order to at least be able to pay the rest, the EU decided in 2006 to separate the aid proposal from the trade proposal. The Turkish Cypriots reacted strongly to this; for them, trade was more important than aid. The issues of aid and trade with the EU remained unresolved.