Conference on Cyprus: Foot-dragging Towards a Dead-End

Green Line, Nicosia, Cyprus

Green Line, Nicosia, Cyprus

Anyone even remotely interested in the Cyprus issue has by now become an expert on the geography of Switzerland. The Cyprus Agreements that established the Republic of Cyprus were signed in Zurich. The final stages of the Annan Plan negotiations were held in Bürgenstock. The Conference on Cyprus was convened last January in Geneva while significant discussions took place before and after in Mont-Pèlerin.  The latest episode in the saga of the never-ending negotiations of the Cyprus issue takes place in Crans-Montana where the two communities together with the three Guarantor Powers are meeting under the auspices of the UN. What can we expect from those talks?

In the unlike event that the current gridlock is lifted, a peace plan ‘based on a bicommunal, bizonal federation with political equality’ will be unveiled.  The two communities will have to approve it in simultaneous referendums later this year. How would such plan look like? Cyprus will be a federal State where both communities will be participating effectively in all organs and decisions of the federal government. This will most probably happen through a numerical formula. For example, 7 Greek Cypriots to 3 Turkish Cypriots was the formula for the government and the legislature in the 1960 Constitution of the Cyprus Republic. 2:1 for the government and 3:1 for the lower house of the Parliament were the ratios provided by the Annan Plan. Something along those lines should be expected in the new plan.

More importantly, bi-zonality means that there will be two constituent states – one Greek-Cypriot and one Turkish-Cypriot. Each constituent state will be administered by the respective community which ‘would be guaranteed a clear majority of the population and of land ownership in the area’ as the UN has explained. Given that more than 75 percent of the privately owned land in northern Cyprus belongs to Greek Cypriots, it is unavoidable that some Greek Cypriot will not get their property back. Instead, there will be a restitution scheme that will combine reinstatement for some dispossessed owners, exchange and/or compensation for some others. And even those whose property rights will be reinstated, they might be living under Turkish-Cypriot administration.

Although, this seems as an awfully complicated arrangement, this is the easiest part of the negotiations. The current impasse is pretty much owed to the fact that the two communities hold completely contrasting views on security and especially the future of the anachronistic system of guarantees. The Greek Cypriots vehemently oppose the preservation of a system of guarantees that would provide for rights of intervention to Turkey given Turkey’s military intervention in 1974 and its grave consequences. On the other hand, the Turkish Cypriots focus on the traumatic events that took place in the aftermath of the break-up of the Republic in 1963-1964. It is of fundamental importance to them that their motherland will be allowed to guarantee their security at least for a significant period of time. Unless, both communities and the Guarantor Powers are willing to compromise, it is difficult to see how the current deadlock can be lifted.

So what now? The history of the Cyprus problem is a history of failed diplomatic efforts, one might say. This is true. One has also to take into account, however, that the two communities have failed to agree on a solution in accordance with the known parameters, although they have been negotiating for the last 40 years. In fact, the Greek-Cypriots have already overwhelmingly rejected a plan (the Annan Plan) that was founded on the idea of a bi-zonal bi-communal federation.

One has also to wonder when again in the future, the two communities will have leaders that have supported (at least ostensibly) the reunification of the island in the same way as Anastasiades and Akıncı have, despite their recent reluctance. At the moment, one of the frontrunners to become the next President of the Republic is Mr Nicolas Papadopoulos. He is supported by EDEK and Solidarity, two political parties that are openly against a solution that is based on a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. Similarly, Akıncı is currently under a lot of pressure from his opposition with regard to his stance during the negotiations. All those developments might point to the fact that the idea of a bi-zonal bi-communal federation slowly but surely is losing traction within the two communities even as a compromise.

So, although a failure in the current negotiations will hardly raise any eyebrows, there is a possibility that it could lead the international community to believe that the Cyprus issue cannot be solved under the agreed parameters. Does that mean that the next negotiations will be about a two-states solution? Probably not, given that this idea is still an anathema within the Greek-Cypriot community and that partition plans are also incredibly complicated (e.g. Israel-Palestine). It definitely means, however, that the current highly unstable status quo will be further solidified and Cyprus will remain a divided country in a troubled neighbourhood for the foreseeable future. For two politicians that based their election on a promise to find a solution, such result can only be deemed as an unmitigated failure.

This article was first published on MacroPolis on 28 June 2017

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