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Divided Cyprus: Coming to Terms on an Imperfect Reality
Divided Cyprus: Coming to Terms on an Imperfect Reality
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Report 171 / Europe & Central Asia

The Cyprus Stalemate: What Next?

The last round of Cyprus’s drawn-out peace process ended in April 2004 when the Greek Cypriot community, which had long advocated reunification of the divided island on a bicommunal and bizonal basis, overwhelmingly rejected the UN-sponsored “Annan Plan”, which provided for just that.

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Executive Summary

The last round of Cyprus’s drawn-out peace process ended in April 2004 when the Greek Cypriot community, which had long advocated reunification of the divided island on a bicommunal and bizonal basis, overwhelmingly rejected the UN-sponsored “Annan Plan”, which provided for just that. At the same time on the northern side of the Green Line, the Turkish Cypriot community, in a major reversal of its traditional preference for secession, backed reunification. The failure of the referendum did not stop a still-divided Cyprus being admitted to membership of the EU a week later. Notwithstanding clear continuing support for the Annan Plan, or some variation of it, among all other members of the EU and the wider international community, the present situation remains stalemated.

Given that no negotiated settlement is presently in sight, the only way forward appears to be a series of unilateral efforts by the relevant domestic and international actors, aimed at sustaining the pro-solution momentum in the north, inducing political change in the south, and advancing inter-communal reconciliation. External players should, to the extent of their capacity, seek to exert pressure upon the political elites of both communities for immediate recommencement of negotiations and do everything possible meanwhile to reduce the isolation of the north.

The best-case outcome, manifestly in the interests of both sides and their regional neighbours, would be for Greek and Turkish Cypriots to make further efforts to reunify Cyprus within the broad framework laid down in the Annan Plan. With its detailed and comprehensive provisions, its tightly forged compromise arrangements and its distillation of three decades of negotiations, some new variation of that Plan, built around the concept of a bizonal and bicommunal federation as originally agreed by Archbishop Makarios and Rauf Denktash in the 1970s, is the only proposal that seems ultimately capable of common acceptance.

The most substantial blockage of such an agreement is now the policy and attitude of the Greek Cypriot leadership and in particular of President Tassos Papadopoulos. They should realise that if they persist in their refusal to engage with the United Nations and with Cyprus’s other international partners, the island will slip by default toward permanent partition and the independence of the north, whether formally recognised or not. The idea that Turkish Cypriots will instead accept minority status in a centralised Greek Cypriot state is a pipe dream.

Confidence building measures cannot, in the present environment, realistically be negotiated. But they can still be undertaken unilaterally. Political leaders are always reluctant to make concessions not immediately reciprocated, but these can sometimes be very much in the longer term national interest. The argument of this report is that the best hope of changing the dynamics of the Cyprus conflict, and creating an environment in which a UN-brokered solution can once again be contemplated and the best interests of all parties advanced, is for the following measures, and approaches, to be taken by the key players:

  • The EU, UN and U.S. have important roles in creating an atmosphere where progress may be possible. In 2004, the UN Secretary-General, the EU Council of Ministers and the U.S. Secretary of State all called for ending the north’s isolation; their words should now be followed by deeds. The EU, for all the difficulty of acting in the face of Cypriot vetoes, has a particular obligation to sustain by every available means the economic development and European integration of northern Cyprus as it pledged to do in April 2004. The Commission, Council, Parliament and other member states should implement the new funding instrument for northern Cyprus, and press for the establishment of a branch of the Commission’s delegation in the north to oversee its delivery and the inclusion of northern Cyprus in the EU’s customs union with Turkey. The U.S. similarly should upgrade its existing office in the north. Lifting the isolation of the north is key to promoting a long-term and sustainable solution based on equality.
     
  • Greek Cypriots need to refocus on the core issues, recognise that a centralised state is a recipe for endless further domestic and regional instability, accept that the roots of the Cyprus conflict lie as much in 1963 as 1974, acknowledge that it is not only they who have been uprooted from their homes and mourn their missing, and look again at the advantages of giving practical effect to the bizonality and bicommunality principles they agreed to three decades ago. Given the uncompromising position taken by the present government, the critical role here in generating debate must be played by the Greek Cypriot opposition, moderates on all political sides and civil society leaders.
     
  • Greece, similarly, must review its historic approach. The attitude of successive governments that “Cyprus decides, Greece follows” is anachronistic and unhelpful: Greece needs to move on from its politics of silence, once more clarify to the international community its stance towards the Annan Plan as the basis for recommencing negotiations and finding a solution, and be prepared to take a lead within the EU to refocus efforts on discharging the Union’s obligations to its Turkish Cypriot citizens.
     
  • Turkish Cypriots should through their government address the outstanding property cases, harmonise laws and practices in line with the EU’s acquis communautaire, extend de facto the EU-Turkey Customs Union to the north and encourage Turkey to reduce its military presence as well as the number of Turkish settlers from the mainland who have migrated to the northern part of the island in the past three decades. The Turkish Cypriot side should show more understanding of Greek Cypriot demands with regard to the issues of missing persons and the restoration of damaged cultural monuments, in order to demonstrate that it is intent on resolving past disputes and willing to ease the costs of reunification and the pain of those who have suffered from the events of 1974.
     
  • Turkey should unilaterally undertake a number of confidence building measures to confirm its commitment to a settlement. It should proceed with its existing EU commitments, including full implementation of the Customs Union with all 25 member states. The partial withdrawal of some of the 35,000 troops stationed in the northern part of the island would be an important step in easing the fears of the Greek Cypriots, without threatening Turkey’s security interests. And it should commit to the drafting of a plan for repatriation of a number of settlers once a census has been held.

 

Brussels/Nicosia, 8 March 2006

Report 229 / Europe & Central Asia

Divided Cyprus: Coming to Terms on an Imperfect Reality

To avoid another failed effort at federal reunification in the new round of Cyprus negotiations, all sides should break old taboos and discuss all possible options, including independence for Turkish Cypriots within the European Union.

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Executive Summary

Talks have begun – yet again – on a settlement for divided Cyprus. To avoid another failed effort at a federation, new ideas are needed. The basic blockage is that Greek and Turkish Cypriots have separate lives, languages and infrastructure and fear a unified new administration would be more threatening than the peaceful status quo. In debate and new backstage diplomacy, they and the international community should test a route to a different unity, including through giving Turkish Cypriots full independence and EU membership. Thinking outside the box may persuade the sides they prefer a federation, not least because the smaller Turkish Cypriot state would be so weak. But a realistic new approach could also be the best way to take advantage of Turkey’s new political will for a settlement, Greek Cypriots’ need for a dignified escape from economic trouble and Turkish Cypriots’ wish to be both in the EU and in charge of their own affairs.

Legitimising Turkish Cypriot self-determination has been taboo outside the Turkish Cypriot entity and its backers in Turkey. The Greek Cypriot majority that took exclusive control of the internationally-recognised Republic of Cyprus in 1964 remains utterly opposed in public to formal partition. Its position is backed by UN Security Council resolutions and Cyprus’s network of allies, notably the EU, especially because of Turkey’s 1974 invasion and the subsequent physical separation of the communities. Yet, in five rounds of mainly UN-facilitated negotiations over four decades, the sides have been unable to agree to reunify Cyprus according to the official parameters of a bizonal, bicommunal federation. Thousands of meetings in dozens of formats have resulted only in a glacial, incomplete normalisation of the de facto partition between the Greek Cypriot majority in the south and the Turkish Cypriots in the north.

Officials involved in the fresh round of talks since February 2014 say they are aiming for the lightest federation yet imagined. The chief Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot negotiators have visited Ankara and Athens, opening an important new line of communication. But ill omens abound. Talks on just the opening statement dragged on for five months. Public scepticism is high. Suggested confidence-building measures, rarely achieved through negotiation anyway, have fallen flat. Natural gas discoveries south of the island are still minor and have done more to distract the sides than to unify them. Turkey and Greece, the outside powers with the greatest ability to help reach a deal, support the talks in principle, but their leaders have done little of the public diplomacy outreach that might make them likelier to succeed.

The status quo has proved durable and peaceful and is constantly improving. Nobody has been killed on the Green Line dividing the island since 1996. The main day-to-day problem is not so much the division of the island, but the non-negotiated status of the de facto partition. In private, business leaders on both sides and diplomats on all sides appear increasingly interested in a new framework for discussion. Turkish Cypriots voted in 2010 for a leader who openly favours maximum independence for their community. Some Greek Cypriots are privately ready to consider this option, although anger at the injustices of the Turkish invasion and strong nationalist rhetoric still rule the public sphere.

This report argues that the parties should informally consider the option of mutually agreed independence for the Turkish Cypriots within the EU. The feasibility of such an option depends on EU membership procedures that in this case would depend on the voluntary agreement of the Greek Cypriots, whose state is already a member, so has veto rights over a new candidate. To win that voluntary agreement, Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots would have to offer much: to return long-occupied territory like the ghost beach resort near Famagusta; pull back all or almost all of Turkey’s occupation troops; give up the international guarantees that accompanied the island’s independence in 1960; offer guaranteed compensation within an overall deal on property that both sides still own in each other’s territory; drop demands for derogations from EU law that would block post-settlement Greek Cypriot property purchases in any future Turkish Cypriot state; and acknowledge full Greek Cypriot control of territorial waters south of the island that have proven natural gas deposits.

The existing Republic of Cyprus and a new Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus side by side in the EU might provide much of what Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots actually want. There would be no federal government with cumbersome ethnic quotas that might anyway be struck down by the European Court of Human Rights. The prickly issue of the two thirds of north Cypriot properties owned by Greek Cypriots would become clearer and easier to resolve. If independent, the Turkish Cypriot entity would probably be willing to place its own limits on new Turkish “settlers” from the mainland. Turkey and Turkish Cypriots would likely have a defence arrangement, as is possible within the EU. And with a Cyprus settlement, the path of Turkey’s own EU accession process would be open again.

Without a settlement, the frictions of the non-negotiated partition will simply continue. Turkey’s EU relationship will stay blocked and the EU and NATO will remain unable to cooperate formally, due to diplomatic duelling between the Republic of Cyprus and Turkey, respectively members in only one of those organisations. Turkish Cypriots will live on in unjustified isolation. And Greek Cypriots will suffer a deeper economic depression, longer deprivation of property rights, costly obstacles in the way of natural gas development, diminishing leverage over Turkey and, perhaps worst of all, indefinite uncertainty.

Nicosia/Istanbul/Brussels, 14 March 2014