Regional Stability

Reassessing the Prospects for Overcoming the Cyprus Divide

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Division line between the Turkish and Greek part of Nicosia, capital city of Cyprus. Image: Petros Kkolas/Flickr

This article was originally published by Europe’s World on 11 Sepember, 2015.

There is no doubt that following the rise of Mustafa Akıncı to become the Turkish Cypriot leader this April, there have been high expectations for a resolution to the Cyprus problem. Nevertheless, it is important to be pragmatic and not underestimate the difficulties. For a real resolution, it is essential to achieve consensus on several major aspects of the problem.

First, there are serious constitutional disagreements between the two sides. The Greek Cypriot position is that the bi-zonal, bi-communal federation and the new partnership are an evolution of the Republic of Cyprus, which is recognised by all countries except Turkey. The Turkish Cypriot position is that the new partnership will involve a new state entity, to be created by two equal and sovereign constituent states. In terms of governance, the Greek Cypriots stress the importance of a unified state with a common society, economy and institutions. Turkish Cypriot positions revolve around entrenching a new situation based on ethno-communal lines. Bridging this gap will be difficult given that the positions reflect two fundamentally opposing philosophies. Furthermore, while the Turkish Cypriot positions are nearer to a confederation, or at best a very loose federation, the Greek Cypriots have in mind a federal arrangement with a rather strong government. It should be stressed that President Nicos Anastasiades himself may be willing to engage in a serious discussion about decentralisation provided he is satisfied on other issues such as territory and property.

The Greek Cypriot side envisages the return of territory in that most Greek Cypriot refugees would be resettled under Greek Cypriot administration. It remains to be seen what the Turkish Cypriot side would be prepared to agree to. As for property, the Greek Cypriots stress the primacy of the original legal owner of properties, while the Turkish Cypriots insist on giving priority to the current resident. What’s more, the Turkish Cypriot position underlines that residents made to return property should be compensated. Since Greek Cypriots who don’t return to their properties will also be given compensation, the cost of this settlement will be substantial. It should be noted, too, that some Greek Cypriot refugees have already sold their properties in the occupied northern part of Cyprus at relatively low prices in recent years, primarily due to the economic crisis.

The three fundamental freedoms – freedom to own property, of settlement and of movement (throughout the island) – are themselves only partially agreed. The two sides agree on the freedom of movement, but the other two yield complications. The Greek Cypriot positions are in line with the European Union acquis communautaire. The Turkish Cypriots insist, however, on derogations from the EU legal framework, insisting instead on strict bi-zonality clauses implying that the freedom to own property and to settle throughout the island be compromised. The new Turkish Cypriot leader Akıncı may be flexible on this issue if he is satisfied with the advancement of political equality. But for the Greek Cypriots, it is inconceivable that illegal settlers enjoy the same fundamental freedoms, as it may endanger the demographic structure of Cyprus.

The Greek Cypriots consider the issue of settlers to be political, although they recognise that it also entails a humanitarian dimension. They believe that most settlers should be repatriated to Turkey, but the Turkish Cypriot side insists that settlers who are citizens of the “TRNC” will not be repatriated. In addition, Greek Cypriots see the Turkish policy of colonialism as an attempt by Ankara to change the demographic character of the island, so it consequently becomes a security issue.

Thought about security issues offers further complications, as the Turkish Cypriots insist on having Turkey as a guarantor power in accordance with the arrangements of the 1960 constitution. The Greek Cypriots believe that the system of guarantors has been part of the problem, and also see it as an anachronism. In essence, they see that the system of guarantor powers and the presence of foreign troops on Cyprus would lead to it being a protectorate rather than an equitable member state of the EU. At this stage, there are various ideas, from the involvement of NATO to that of the UN Security Council.

Economics should be more straightforward, as both sides understand the importance of an integrated economy in principle; nevertheless, it may be difficult for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federal Cyprus to function effectively in the eurozone. Likewise, it will require tremendous effort to accordingly regulate and streamline the banking system in the occupied northern part of Cyprus. This is true also for the effective administration of social security, energy, water and health, which may require a strong federal government. Nevertheless, this way of thinking does not prevail in the negotiations. The focus seems to be on a loose form of a federal arrangement, which also includes confederation elements.

It is essential that negotiations on the Cyprus problem take into foremost consideration the requirements for a contemporary state, rather than the political expediencies of the past or the strategic considerations of Turkey. Likewise, it is important that the debate moves beyond ethno-communal lines and focuses on the creation of a list of common objectives, if not a complete agenda. Moreover, for any settlement to be viable, foreign interventions should be limited if not eliminated.

Andreas Theophanous is a Professor of Political Economy and President of the Center for European and International Affairs of the University of Nicosia.

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