By Andrew Beatty
Diplomats have warned that tensions over northern Cyprus and Kosovo are beginning to affect the EU’s decision-making in other areas of foreign policy.
According to diplomats, discussions on foreign policy are becoming increasingly bogged down by divisions between member states because of concerns about the wider repercussions of Kosovo’s independence.
United Nations envoy Martti Ahtisaari, who will present his recommendations on the future status of Kosovo to the UN Security Council on 26 March, is expected to say that the province should be independent in all but name. Many member states fear that this would set a precedent for other breakaway territories, in the former Soviet Union or even in the EU.
Slovakia, Romania, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Italy have all voiced concerns about plans for an independent Kosovo, although they agreed with plans for a 72-strong EU delegation to take over from the UN mission if members of the Security Council approve Ahtisaari’s recommendations.
An EU preparation team has been in the region for months and member states have agreed on most elements of the so-called International Civilian Office. It is estimated that the EU mission will cost €18.8 million in the first year.
But divisions over Kosovo are spilling over beyond the Balkans. The tension rose during recent discussions between member states of plans to resolve territorial disputes between Georgia and secessionist regions in its north and west, which prompted sustained interventions from the Cypriot delegation.
“We were held up for an hour because of the Cypriots,” said one EU diplomat present at the meeting, “they have never mentioned Georgia before.”
Member states were discussing a report from Peter Semneby, the EU’s special envoy to the southern Caucasus, which sets out ways the EU can help resolve the standoffs in South Ossetia, Abkhazia and Ajaria.
“Because of Kosovo, everyone is a little more nervous,” said another official, explaining current tensions. Ahead of the presentation of that report, Russia and Serbia had repeatedly warned that Kosovo’s independence would set a precedent for other breakaway territories. Within the EU, Cyprus now seems to take a similar view. Nicosia fears the precedent of an internationally imposed settlement, following the failure to find a negotiated solution to the division of the island.
The German EU presidency has expressed its wish to break the three-year deadlock over direct trade with northern Cyprus, which has so far been vetoed by Cyprus.
The nervousness in Nicosia about the issue was made evident by the recent media attacks on Olli Rehn, the European enlargement commissioner, who was accused of undermining Greek Cypriot sovereignty.
Germany has briefed member states on exploratory talks between the Turkish and Greek Cypriots although the presidency’s plans have yet to be unveiled. Officials said that the proposals might try to find a way around the Cypriot veto.
The Commission’s original proposals to lift the blockade require member states to vote by qualified majority, although Greek Cypriots have rejected this legal basis.