The Cyprus conundrum – Which way next?

22 January 2013

The forthcoming presidential elections in the Republic of Cyprus, the role of Turkey and the views of the Turkish Cypriot community, the financial crisis, and the new geostrategic situation in the region are all significant issues in terms of settling the Cyprus question, said Sotos Zackheos, a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus.

He said the three frontrunner candidates in the presidential election – Nicos Anastasiades, Giorgios Lillikas and Stavros Malas – all believed that the discovery of natural gas in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone would change the balance of power by strengthening the Greek-Cypriots’ hand in the negotiations.

Anastasiades backs the appointment of a negotiator reporting to the President and the Council of Leaders of the Cypriot Parties, and believes the EU should be represented in the UN talks by a European Council-appointed person, Zackheos said.

Moreover, he wants a single Cyprus state with a single sovereignty, international personality and citizenship, and wants any proposals made in the last round of negotiations which are in disharmony with European principles – regarding property, the rotating presidency, and the remaining in Cyprus of around 50,000 Turkish settlers – to be withdrawn, the former Foreign Ministry official added.

Stavros Malas wants a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation with a strong central state, Zackheos said.

Giorgios Lillikas is against bi-zonality – which he believes deprives Greek Cypriots of freedom of movement and settlement throughout the island – but he recognises bi-communality, Zackheos added.

Lillikas advocates putting pressure on Turkey to abandon its intransigent positions, he said.

“By continuing to push maximalist positions, we may end up with another 45 years of peace negotiations,” said Kudret Özersay, Professor of International Law and Political Science at the Eastern Mediterranean University.

Speaking in a personal capacity, he said there were two preconditions of any successful settlement of the Cyprus question: both communities must deem the status quo to be unacceptable, and international actors must be motivated to change the status quo too.

“Even in the absence of a comprehensive settlement, the Greek Cypriot community has been allowed to join the European Union, hold the EU Presidency, and conclude maritime delimitation agreements,” said Özersay, adding that given these realities, it was no surprise that they were in no hurry to change the status quo.

The most feasible option for transporting Cypriot gas deposits to Europe would be via Turkey, he argued, adding that international actors were increasingly stressing that the Turkish Cypriots must be co-owners of the island’s natural resources.

The twin collapse of the Greek Cypriot economy and the administrative system of the North has led to calls from both sides for their domestic systems to change, he pointed out. “This may trigger a renewed effort to solve the Cyprus problem too,” he said.

“It’s not the complexity of the Cyprus problem – it’s the infinity of it. The current situation of trying to find a solution between both communities has continued for 50 years,” said James Ker-Lindsay, Senior Research Fellow on the Politics of South-East Europe at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“It’s time for the international community to play a far more active role in finding a solution. It has a lot at stake, so it has the right to put on pressure and demand its resolution,” Ker-Lindsay argued.