Arrow Left Arrow Right Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Twitter Video Camera Youtube
Divided Cyprus: Coming to Terms on an Imperfect Reality
Divided Cyprus: Coming to Terms on an Imperfect Reality
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Divided Cyprus: Coming to Terms on an Imperfect Reality
Divided Cyprus: Coming to Terms on an Imperfect Reality
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.

  • Share
  • Save
  • Print
  • Download PDF Full Report

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

Divided Cyprus: Coming to Terms on an Imperfect Reality

Hear about International Crisis Group's new report Divided Cyprus: Coming to Terms On an Imperfect Reality from Hugh Pope, Deputy Program Director, Europe & Central Asia. 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.

Divided Cyprus: Coming to Terms on an Imperfect Reality

In this video, Crisis Group's Europe & Central Asia Deputy Program Director Hugh Pope explains the findings of our new report Divided Cyprus: Coming to Terms On an Imperfect Reality. CRISIS GROUP