Don't​ ​lose​ ​this​ ​last​ ​chance​ ​on​ ​Cyprus
Don't​ ​lose​ ​this​ ​last​ ​chance​ ​on​ ​Cyprus
Fresh Thinking Needed on Cyprus
Fresh Thinking Needed on Cyprus
Op-Ed / Europe & Central Asia

Don't​ ​lose​ ​this​ ​last​ ​chance​ ​on​ ​Cyprus

EU leaders must ignore calls to penalise Turkey.

At their summit later this week, EU leaders may be incited by Cyprus to punish Turkey for not opening its harbours and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic. They should resist and, instead, pledge support for negotiations between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, which are now entering a crucial phase.

Nicosia's stand is doubly ironic. It is pledging full commitment to the reunification talks, yet is trying to penalise Turkey, a key partner in any settlement. Greek Cypriots say they want to see Turkey in the EU, yet they are pushing it away.

The timing is also wrong. Europe, Turkey and Cyprus face a new 'last chance' to reunify the 1.1 million inhabitants of the island - 80% Greek Cypriot, 20% Turkish Cypriot. Unfortunately, the downward road - from a Greek Cypriot takeover in 1963, a Greece-backed coup in 1974, and the subsequent Turkish invasion - is paved with last chances. The most recent chance was lost when the EU accepted as a member a country run only by Greek Cypriots. Its leader and 76% of Greek Cypriots had voted against the 2004 settlement, including a Turkish withdrawal, which had been backed by the EU, the UN, the US, Turkey and 65% of Turkish Cypriots. After that, Greek Cypriots blocked half of Turkey's EU membership negotiations, right-wing leaders from major EU states turned against Turkey's European ambitions and a demoralised Turkey slowed its EU harmonisation process to a crawl.

In February 2008, the Greek Cypriots elected a new, pro-compromise leader, Demetris Christofias. A promising new period of talks began with the equally progressive Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat. However, despite some success, these two old friends have not yet managed to rescue the situation. In the absence of a real deal, polls suggest that Talat will lose his seat to a nationalist hardliner in elections in April.

If this happens, the underlying animosity stored up since 2004 could unravel the situation fast and the de facto partition will become permanent.

The EU will lose any prospect of EU-NATO co-operation and the positive impact that smooth EU-Turkey relations have had in its Middle Eastern backyard. Greece's territorial conflicts with Turkey may unfreeze. Turkey will see the charisma and prosperity linked to its last decade's EU integration efforts evaporate, will face billions of euros of European lawsuits over occupied Greek Cypriot property and will fail to win recognition of a Turkish Cypriot state.

On Cyprus, Greek Cypriots will suffer indefinitely Turkish troops in the occupied north, forfeit chances for restitution of occupied property and become a partial ghetto on the far eastern margin of Europe. Turkish Cypriots, already squeezed by migrants from Turkey, and today barely half of the population of the north, will see living standards fall and their community scatter as full-scale integration with Turkey ensues.

Momentum in the old virtuous circle between the EU, Turkey and Cyprus can be rebuilt. The new German government has dropped the idea of a second-class 'privileged partnership' for Turkey it had been canvassing as a substitute for the long-promised goal of membership. In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy's opposition to Turkey's membership has brought new supporters of Turkey into the open. Greek Cypriots should send positive signals and find a way of accepting the Turkish offer of direct talks in the same room as the Turkish Cypriots, Greece and the UN. Turkey should act big and reach out to the Greek Cypriots to neutralise their real fears and lack of trust.

Ankara should also accelerate its recent new push on convergence with EU norms. This process is not just the proven best course for both sides. It is also the only path to the reunification of Cyprus - and for this to happen, the next few months really are the last chance.

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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