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New Hope for Peace in Cyprus
New Hope for Peace in Cyprus
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

Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia

New Hope for Peace in Cyprus

Originally published in The Majalla

As a new round of talks started on February 11, 2014 between Nicos Anastasiades and Derviş Eroğlu—respectively the leaders of Cyprus’s Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities—cynicism is rife among ordinary Cypriots. Most people think it will take a miracle of some kind to reach a settlement anytime soon.

This is due to a number of reasons: The four-month delay in starting the talks over what were widely seen as pedantic details, the disappointment of high hopes invested in the 2008–12 talks, and the failure of the 2004 Annan Plan, which was accepted by 65 percent of Turkish Cypriots and most of the international community but rejected by 76 percent of Greek Cypriots.

After all, the goal of the talks, a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation for Cyprus, is not new; the UN-facilitated parameters are much the same, and many of those involved in the talks are veteran negotiators. The process now started is in large part an attempt to revive the round of talks held between 2008–12, itself the fifth major round in nearly four decades.

Three new aspects have, however, excited some diplomatic hopes. The first is that Anastasiades, who was elected as president of the Republic of Cyprus a year ago, has made it clear he is seeking a light federal structure for any new republic, with constituent entities controlling their own borders and citizens having no contact with the central federation government in their daily lives. This is a more realistic approach than that of his predecessors and is more likely to lead to a settlement with the Turkish Cypriots, who are keen to keep as much power in their constituent entity as possible.

The second novelty is that the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot chief negotiators will soon visit Ankara and Athens respectively, opening up a vital new channel of communication. Especially on the Greek Cypriot–Ankara axis, a lack of trust, and an inability to see that the other side really does want a deal, has long held back progress.

The third new aspect is that the United States has taken a leading role in pressing for this round of talks to start. One reason is the increasingly active world of east Mediterranean energy politics. An American company, Noble Energy, is the main operator working to extract natural gas from deposits discovered in the eastern Mediterranean over the past decade. The most commercial deposits have so far been found in Israeli waters, but there is significant potential in offshore Cyprus too.

The cheapest, quickest, most secure and profitable way to get this gas to market is probably by pipeline to Turkey. But such a pipeline would have to pass through Cyprus’s Exclusive Economic Zone, and a senior Greek Cypriot official tells us there is no chance Nicosia will allow that to happen before a Cyprus settlement is agreed, or, at the least, before there is a very good prospect of one. And if a settlement doesn’t materialize quickly, energy experts say the Israeli developers will choose a more expensive, but more certain, alternative export method, such as a floating terminal that freezes and liquefies the gas to load into tankers.

The US is interested in supporting Israel as its ally appears to seek an insurance policy against Middle East turbulence by building a stronger line to the European Union through closer ties with Cyprus, Turkey and Greece. A gas pipeline linking three or four of these countries would be one way of reinforcing such a strategy. US mediation since March 2013 is also now close to resolving the crisis of confidence between Israel and Turkey.

The best confidence-building measure to help the talks along their way would be for Turkey simply to extend its EU Customs Union to the Greek Cypriots, a measure that was already fully negotiated back in 2005 and is known as the Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement. It has been blocked for political reasons in Ankara, partly as a sanction against Greek Cypriots but also because Turkey lost interest in actively pursuing EU membership.

Ratifying the Additional Protocol would be a leap forward on several tracks: it would normalize trade with Greek Cypriots, helping their economy, which was shattered in 2013 by a financial-sector meltdown, and change their perceptions of Turkey; it would clear the principal obstacle to opening fourteen of Turkey’s thirty-five negotiating chapters with the EU; it would almost certainly result in Turkish Cypriots winning tax-free “direct trade” with the EU; and it would greatly improve the atmosphere of the Cyprus settlement talks.

Turkey has shown no sign of doing any of this yet. But, after years of neglecting Cyprus and its EU accession process, Turkey has now announced that 2014 will be a &lsquoYear of Europe.’ In January, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visited Brussels for the first time in five years and his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, played a crucial part in pushing forward the beginning of this new round of Cyprus talks. Such moves may partly be to shore up domestic popularity after a bumpy year, but they are steps in a positive direction.

Turkey should also undertake sustained outreach to Greek Cypriots. This was successful in 2010, when Prime Minister Erdoğan invited to Istanbul a group of former Greek Cypriot officials, journalists and civil society activists. At the meeting, they were wowed by his repeated assurances that he wanted to do a deal on Cyprus. This visibly began to neutralize one of the most important drivers of the Cyprus dispute: institutionalized Greek Cypriot fear of the intentions of their far bigger and more powerful neighbor.

While all sides would benefit from a settlement—any settlement—failure to make the politically painful compromises necessary to reach an outcome quickly will deepen the de facto partition of the island. Indeed, the level of disconnection between the two communities already looks almost irreversible. Lack of a settlement will leave Greek Cypriots isolated and poorer on the far eastern tip of the EU; Turkish Cypriots will remain stranded with little way to escape integration into Turkey; and NATO-member Turkey will be burdened with, at best, a frozen EU accession process and the steady drain on its resources of propping up the Turkish Cypriot administration. Myriad regional benefits will also likely stay stuck: the EU and NATO will remain unable to share assets; east Mediterranean natural gas will remain orphaned from its most lucrative market in Turkey; and Greece and Turkey will most likely fail to solve their expensive maritime-boundaries dispute in the Aegean.