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Monday, 21 December 2015

Cyprus: Prospects for reunification, peace with Turkey and regional stability

David Madden (SEESOX Associate and Senior Member of St Antony's College)

The Cyprus High Commissioner in London, Euripides Evriviades, spoke on 2 December on "Cyprus: Prospects for reunification, peace with Turkey and regional stability". David Madden chaired.

"Geography is Destiny". Cyprus stands at the cross-roads of three continents. This is a blessing but it is also curse. It is something that cannot be ignored; and so is the Cyprus problem.

There is under way another attempt to find a solution. For a permanent, just and viable settlement, everything must come together. There is a clear understanding amongst the parties including the United Nations that nothing can be agreed until everything is agreed.

Cyprus is a member of the UN; the Commonwealth; the EU. Accession to the EU in May 2004 was the most critical strategic development for Cyprus since its independence in 1960. The accession of the Republic of Cyprus to the EU is equally critical for the Eastern Mediterranean region.

The Mediterranean sea is of pivotal importance for the countries in the region, but also for the UK, Europe and for Transatlantic security. It is imperative to have predictable, credible and reliable partners in the Eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus plays an important role in this regard and is a security producer. This has been exemplified recently with regards to the destruction of Syrian Chemical Weapons; the role of Cyprus in the maritime component of UNIFIL; support for humanitarian evacuations, eg Lebanon; and currently for the fight against ISIS / DAESH.

Like all states, Turkey follows its own national interests. But Cyprus does not accept the Turkish thesis that she falls within Turkey’s "vital space" whatever that may mean for Ankara.

Occasionally, Cyprus has been criticised for “blocking” Turkey's accession to the EU. In fact the opposite is true. Cyprus wants Turkey to join. But Turkey must do much more to help itself and align itself with EU common positions. Turkey cannot make its own rules for its accession.

The status quo in Cyprus is unacceptable. Divisions and military occupations are always a source of instability, with all the human rights violations associated with any occupation. The island and the region must be stable. And in the context of a settlement Cyprus must have all the attributes of a state, including its foreign policy. Nothing short will do. Cypriots cannot be reduced to second class citizens in the EU.

The Treaty of Guarantee, the system of security established in 1960, is anachronistic and colonial. It did not serve the interests of the Cypriots. This current phase of intercommunal talks started on 18 February 2014 , was suspended because of Turkish aggressive naval & military activity in Cyprus's EEZ, and was resumed once these ceased.

The aim of the talks is agreement in accordance with the UN Charter and the EU acquis (though there could be temporary / transitional derogations): a settlement based on two politically equal communities on the island, one which also takes into account the interests of other communities on the island Armenians, Maronites and Latins.

There is guarded optimism about the latest rounds of talks. Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı had made an enormous difference. Coming into the negotiations, he has a good track record on rapprochement. However we have a long way to go regarding core issues.

It is encouraging that there have been millions of visits across the UN ceasefire line without any serious incident.

In answering questions, the following points were made:
  • Both sides but also UN and the international community have learned from the failure to reach a settlement in 2004: there appears greater political will this time around. 
  • The keys to a settlement are property (different categories / criteria agreed ); security; settlers; territorial adjustments. 
  • The ten year EU membership has done wonders to change the mood in Cyprus. There definitely has been a paradigm shift. "When you change the context you change the problem’ a wise man, Jean Monnet and a founding father of the EU has said. Spoilers fora solution are not mainstream and not strong enough to upset the apple-cart but one cannot prejudge the referenda. 
  • Energy can play a positive role; a settlement is a sine qua non for possible pipelines to Turkey; all natural resources of a future federal Cyprus belong to the central government; energy can also be a regional game changer. 
  • The current migration crisis has affected Cyprus less than other EU countries. It should be noted that Cyprus is not in Schengen and is distant from the rest of the EU.
  • The March 2013 Cyprus "bail-in" had been a "highway robbery". There had been faults on the Cypriot side, but also on the EU/Eurozone side. But gradually the economy is recovering and the economy is coming around.

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