Fresh Thinking Needed on Cyprus
Fresh Thinking Needed on Cyprus
Divided Cyprus: Coming to Terms on an Imperfect Reality
Divided Cyprus: Coming to Terms on an Imperfect Reality
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary

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.

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

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