In one of his first public speeches after winning the election in February 2003, Papadopoulos emphasized that he wanted negotiations—not to deprive the Turkish Cypriots of their rights, but to ensure that both communities had before them a workable plan that would last. Marathon talks held in March in The Hague, mediated by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, ended without an agreement. The UN had worked hard to get Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash and Greek Cypriot leader Papadopoulos to consider a plan that would reunite Cyprus as two states, each with control over its own internal affairs but with a central government to oversee international relations. The agreement called for the Turkish portion of Cyprus to surrender land to Greek control. (Prior to 1974, the Turkish Cypriot population was about 18% of the island's population, but as of 2003, Turkish Cypriots controlled nearly 40% of the land area.)
The Turkish government opposed Cypriot membership in the EU until a settlement had been accepted in which the EU recognized and accepted Turkish control of the northern region. In November 2001, Turkey threatened to annex the northern third of the island if accession took place without an agreement. However, in January 2003, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of Turkey's governing party, the Justice and Development Party, criticized Rauf Denktash for blocking progress on the proposed UN plan for reunification.
Nonetheless, Cyprus signed the EU treaty on 16 April 2003 (with nine other countries), with provisions for the country to join the EU in 2004, whether reunification was successful or not.
A week after the Greek Cypriot government signed the EU treaty, the Turkish Cypriot administration announced it was easing border restrictions between the two halves of the island. The Greek Cypriot government welcomed the decision, but stated it drew attention away from the Turkish Cypriots' reluctance to pursue the peace process.