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Homepage > Regions / Countries > Europe > Turkey-Cyprus > Cyprus > Reunifying Cyprus: The Best Chance Yet

Reunifying Cyprus: The Best Chance Yet

Europe Report N°194 23 Jun 2008


A new peace process in Cyprus offers the best opportunity in decades to solve the intractable division of the island. The turnabout is largely due to the surprise election of Demetris Christofias to the Greek Cypriot presidency. He, together with his Turkish Cypriot counterpart, Mehmet Ali Talat, are demonstrating political will to make the current UN-mediated talks succeed. Key players like Turkey are being constructive. The outside world, particularly the UN and European Union (EU), needs to fully engage in support of a comprehensive settlement that will improve Cypriot security and prosperity, free Turkey to continue its movement into Europe and overcome a problem that is increasingly damaging to EU policy in the region and beyond.

Since their first meeting on 21 March 2008, Christofias and Talat have opened a new crossing at Ledra Street in the capital, Nicosia, and made solid progress in preparatory talks. In a joint statement on 23 May, they committed to establishing a bicommunal, bizonal federation as a partnership with a single international identity and two equal Constituent States. The presidents are expected to meet again on 1 July and announce agreement on measures to improve bicommunal coordination in health, road safety and the environment. Either then or at the latest in mid-July, they should press forward and announce a 1 September 2008 start for full-fledged negotiations.

Both sides know this is only a beginning, but that it could be the last chance for reunification for the foreseeable future. Several dynamics encouraging partition have emerged since the Annan Plan was accepted by the Turkish Cypriots but rejected by the Greek Cypriots in 2004 referendums. Failure in these negotiations would trigger a cycle of vengeful politics and mistrust on the island; further complicate EU-Turkey and EU-NATO relations; make the Cyprus problem a permanent irritant in the heart of the EU; and, if the 2007 rhetoric over Cypriot oil prospecting was an indication, bring new military tensions to the island.

In the run-up to and during the full-fledged talks, working groups and technical committees should continue to meet to develop options for the leaders to discuss. Momentum must be maintained. Sceptics and nationalists on both sides are waiting for opportunities to derail the talks. Indeed, criticism of the process from the former hardline leaders, Tassos Papadopoulos, the Greek Cypriot president who lost his re-election bid in February 2008, and Rauf Denktash, for decades the Turkish Cypriot strongman, underlines how committed Christofias and Talat are to reaching a solution.

The position of Turkey is crucial, given its geographic proximity, large garrison on the island and extensive support for the Turkish Cypriot administration. The ruling AK Party government is supporting the settlement process as it did in 2004, and the foreign ministry says it is determined to reach a solution. The Turkish military is sticking to its 2004 acceptance of troop withdrawals in return for the right deal and has been constructive so far. The Turkish Cypriots say they have Ankara’s full backing to reach agreement along the well-established UN parameters. Chances of success would be higher if there was less internal political turmoil in Turkey due to the court case against the AK Party, but domestic disputes do not rule out progress on Cyprus.

Distrust between Greek Cypriots and Turkey is a key obstacle. Ankara remains suspicious of the Greek Cypriots’ intentions, despite a turnabout in their position under Christofias, and Greek Cypriots remain convinced that Turkey is insincere and unreliable. These two parties barely know each other, having not talked for 40 years, and are all too ready to believe extremist rhetoric in nationalist media. Ankara should communicate with Greek Cypriots, even as it refuses to recognise their government as representing all interests on the island, just as Greek Cypriots should work more willingly with the longstanding Turkish Cypriot administrative structures. EU states and other external parties can facilitate better communication.

The UN Secretary-General should appoint a new high-level special adviser to facilitate the full-fledged talks and ensure that all regional and other international players are fully informed and supportive. The EU, which risks real damage to many areas of policy if the Greek Cypriot-Turkish relationship breaks down, must engage more with the process, including making preparations now for financial instruments to support any settlement.

The economy and security of both communities on Cyprus, as well as Turkey, would significantly benefit from the right comprehensive settlement under the EU roof. As they work for difficult compromises, all should move beyond painful memories and past distrust to focus on this goal.


To the Greek Cypriot Administration:

1.  Treat Turkish Cypriot counterparts as legitimate partners, especially by reversing the previous government’s ban on EU visits to Talat in his office in the north and relaxing, if only temporarily, limitations on international activities by Turkish Cypriot sporting, educational and folkloric clubs.

2.  Implement unilaterally, to show commitment to a carefully negotiated, comprehensive final settlement based on the well-established UN body of work, the European Commission’s Direct Trade Regulation to allow free, direct trade between Turkish Cypriots and the EU through their own ports.

3.  Request that Turkish become an official EU language, as it is in Cyprus, and make preparations for Turkish Cypriot voters and candidates to participate in the 2009 EU parliamentary elections.

4.  Supplement statements of support for Turkey’s eventual EU membership with real help for the accession process, including by ending the hold on negotiation of chapters of the draft Turkey-EU membership agreement and avoiding gratuitous attacks on Turkey and attempts to drive wedges between it and Turkish Cypriots.

To the Turkish Cypriot Administration:

5.  Show more flexibility in debating options for the leaders when discussing issues in working groups and technical committees.

6.  Freeze, if only during negotiations, construction on Greek Cypriot property in the north.

To the Government of Turkey:

7.  Talk to Greek Cypriot officials and signal more active commitment to conflict resolution by public statements in support of the negotiations process and lowering the profile of its troop presence on Cyprus.

8.  Implement unilaterally, to show commitment to a carefully negotiated, comprehensive final settlement based on the well-established UN body of work, the pledge in the 2005 Additional Protocol to the EU-Turkey Customs Union and open airports and seaports to Greek Cypriot traffic.

To the EU and Governments of EU Member States:

9.  Reach out actively to pro-solution leaders on both sides while supporting the Cypriot-driven process; insist on fair implementation of EU aid and trade policies to allow the Turkish Cypriots direct access to EU markets and programs; and re-engage with Turkey through high-level visits to make the case for a Cyprus settlement and encourage Turkey’s EU convergence.

10.  Prepare a financial package in support of a settlement, as was done for Northern Ireland, including financial instruments to guarantee a property compensation scheme, as well as financial aid to reduce the economic gap between the future Constituent States; assist the future Turkish Cypriot Constituent State to meet EU requirements; and help build tens of thousands of new homes needed for Turkish and Greek Cypriots.

11.  Particularly the governments of the UK, Greece and Cyprus should discuss new security architecture for Cyprus and the eastern Mediterranean that can both satisfy EU foreign policy and defence aims and complement the interests and needs of a Turkey on the path to EU membership.

To the UN Secretary-General and Secretariat:

12.  Appoint a special adviser in the coming weeks and provide him/her with a team, including a strong media component, that has regional reach and fully authorised Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot spokespersons.

13.  Facilitate, together with the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), the active participation of civil society in defining a settlement and highlighting its benefits, particularly through the use of opinion polls integrated with the negotiations and the organisation of bicommunal meetings of civil society representatives, business leaders and professional groups.

Nicosia/Istanbul/Brussels, 23 June 2008