Cyprus: Three advantages of the Annan peace plan
Cyprus: Three advantages of the Annan peace plan
Fresh Thinking Needed on Cyprus
Fresh Thinking Needed on Cyprus

Cyprus: Three advantages of the Annan peace plan

No peace deal is perfect, but we can say with some confidence - having been involved in quite a few of them in Europe, Africa and Asia - that the Kofi Annan plan before Cypriot voters on April 24 is much better than most.

Compared to some of its recent predecessors in Europe, it has three striking advantages. First, the proposed system for return of refugees and restoration of property rights is detailed and concrete. Within a few months of the Annan plan coming into force, those displaced in 1974 will be able to begin returning to their homes. In three and a half years, over half of them will be able to return under Greek Cypriot administration, and many others will be able to return under Turkish Cypriot administration. The remainder will at least have their property rights restored.

Greek Cypriots are especially concerned on the issue of property rights, but they might contemplate how, nine years on from the Dayton Peace Agreement in Bosnia-Herzegovina, property rights are still disputed, and only a minority of refugees have returned home, while the story for Serbs displaced from Croatia is even less happy.

Second, the Annan plan convincingly deals with the question of demilitarization. Elsewhere in the European neighborhood, in Northern Ireland for example, the peace process goes on stalling precisely because the commitments of the parties to political cooperation were never sufficiently closely linked to the actions of armed groups on the ground.

By contrast, in the Annan plan, the local forces in Cyprus on both sides are to be completely disbanded. Turkish troops on the island will decrease immediately from today's estimated 45,000 to 6,000, and ultimately 650 or fewer; and will be balanced by Greek troops and monitored closely by the United Nations.

Third, the proposed structure of the government of the United Cyprus Republic makes sense, both in terms of workability and in terms of the imminent prospect of European Union membership. It has its complexities, but compares favorably with the mess of multiple layers of governance with ill-defined and competing powers which exists in both Bosnia-Herzegovina and the neighboring state of Serbia and Montenegro.

Of course, the Annan plan owes its strength in part to the very length of the negotiations. Talks over the shape of a future Cyprus state have been going on for decades, rather than the much briefer time in which the former Yugoslav states have endeavored to settle their constitutions. The effort with Cyprus has clearly paid off.

There is much in this plan that both sides will find problematic. But the fact is that there is no better alternative that can be reached by negotiation, now or in the foreseeable future. A failure to seize the opportunity of a peace deal now, against the imminent time-scale of EU membership, will mean years of further stalemate, with no refugees returning anywhere, continued armed presence on the island, and an EU member state government that controls only 60 percent of its own territory.

A vote in favor will deliver a united island inside the European Union, over half of those displaced returning to their homes within a short time, a demilitarized environment, and a much better chance for the longstanding climate of simmering resentment to be transformed into one of peaceful cooperation.

Of course, there is the possibility that only one side will accept the plan, but for the negative voters in such an outcome, international sympathy will be almost nonexistent. Those on that side can expect to be portrayed as spoilers or wreckers, not the best foundation for winning a better deal in the future.

And if both sides vote against, nobody in the international community can be expected to want to put much effort into achieving a permanent resolution of the Cyprus problem for a very long time to come. Nor will it become any easier to find countries willing to deploy personnel to patrol the boundary and keep the peace between them.

Of course the compromises both sides have to accept are not easy, and there will always be those - particularly local leaders - who will find it more comfortable to argue for the status quo than to accept any concession. But this is a unique chance for a lasting, civilized peace, and we hope very much that Cypriots on both sides of the line recognize, before it is too late, just how unique a chance it is.


Former President & CEO
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Martti Ahtisaari
Former Chairman

Fresh Thinking Needed on Cyprus

A new round of talks has begun in Cyprus and the key parties seem eager to reach a settlement. However, the official goal — a bizonal, bicommunal federation — has stymied negotiators for decades. It is possible that the time has come to consider a mutually agreed separation, within the European Union, of the Greek and Turkish parts of the island.

The closest the two sides have come to an agreement on federal reunification was a decade ago under the Annan Plan, named after United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. It built on decades of work and won the support of the UN, EU, United States, Turkey, and even Greece. Indeed, any federal deal will have to look pretty much like the one hammered out in those years of intense negotiations.

Yet the reality of public sentiment bit back. 76 percent of Greek Cypriots said no to this plan at referendum. As Annan wrote to the Security Council afterwards, “what was rejected was the [federal] solution itself rather than a mere blueprint.”

Today the two sides — whose infrastructure and administrative systems are almost completely separate — are, if anything, further apart. The numbers of people crossing the border have fallen, while polls show weakening support for a federal outcome. In 2004, the Turkish Cypriot side supported the Annan Plan with 65 percent of the vote. But in 2010, they firmly voted back to power a leader whose whole career has been dedicated to a two-state settlement. 

Miracles may happen — and there are many on the island who remain desperate for a settlement — but my judgment is that any federal deal will have an even tougher time succeeding now.

Fresh thinking is needed.The two sides should broaden the agenda alongside the well-worn process of UN-hosted talks between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot negotiators.

One idea that should be fully explored is what the terms might be if Greek Cypriots — the majority of the island’s population — were to offer Turkish Cypriots citizens full independence and fully support them to become members of the European Union. 

Such a deal would have to be agreed to by Greek Cypriots, voluntarily and through a referendum. This will be hard. Greek Cypriot public opinion still, in theory, absolutely rejects any partition. But even senior Greek Cypriot officials agree in private — especially around the dinner tables of business leaders seeking a way out of Cyprus’s crushing banking crisis of 2013 — that there is an increasingly urgent need for a new way forward for the economy and for society.

There is also a growing drumbeat of expert opinion urging Greek Cypriots to consider outcomes beyond the traditional federal goal, which has become so discredited that few on Cyprus are paying much attention to the new talks. International Crisis Group has just published Divided Cyprus: Coming to Terms on an Imperfect Reality, while the U .S. Congressional Research Service concluded last year that “a ‘two-state’ solution seems to have become a more prominent part of the Turkish Cypriot/Turkey rhetoric and unless a dramatic breakthrough occurs early in the negotiations… that reality may gain more momentum.”

Polls show that key parts of what Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots really want can look surprisingly similar. The Greek Cypriots have long wanted a solution securely embedded in European values and structures. That is what Turkish Cypriots say they want too: to become part of the European Union, not part of Turkey, even if they do wish that, in extremis, Turkey would protect their small community. The European part is crucial.

This can only happen with voluntary Greek Cypriot agreement, something that will have to be persuasively won by Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots. They will need to offer convincing terms: withdraw all or almost all of Turkey’s 30,000 troops on the island; end the demand to continue the 1960s “guarantorship” so hated by Greek Cypriots; guarantee compensation of Greek Cypriots for the two-thirds of private property in the north that is owned by them; return the ghost resort of Varosha to its original owners; and pull back to hold 29 percent or less of the island. 

After what will necessarily be a multi-year transition, this will also produce the European solution that Greek Cypriots so often say they want. The two sides will share the same basic legal norms and regulations, the same currency, and the same visa regime. Secure and confident in their new sovereign rights, the Turkish Cypriot side will likely waive the un-European demand for “derogations,” or limits on property purchases by Greek Cypriots in the new entity. 

Nobody is completely right on Cyprus: all parties share responsibility for the frozen conflict on the island. At the end of the day, an independent Turkish Cypriot state within the EU is not rewarding one side or another. Europe will doubtless flinch at accepting a small new Turkish, Muslim state in its midst. 

But Europe helped create this situation, since Brussels breaking its own rules contributed to the clumsy 2004 accession of the disunited island to the EU. 

Moreover, at least 100,000 of the 170,000 Turkish Cypriots are already EU citizens through their Republic of Cyprus passports.

Europe will also be among those who gain from resolving a dispute that has for four decades burdened so many local and regional processes, not least the long-hamstrung relationship between the EU and NATO, and the new question of how the countries of the East Mediterranean can most quickly, profitably and safely exploit new offshore natural gas reserves. This is not partition: it is reunifying Cyprus within the EU.

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