Solution for Cyprus will be through EU

It was just a few days after the enlargement treaty was signed when the palpable prospect of a common future in the European Union performed a miracle. The two-way flow of Greek and Turkish Cypriots thawed the ice of decades and created a climate of rapprochement which even the greatest optimist could not have predicted. Though a return to the previous state of affairs is impossible, it does not mean a solution to the Cyprus issue is imminent. For matters to reach this point it took Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash’s decision – under pressure from the Erdogan government in Turkey – to allow free movement under certain conditions. It was planned as a short-range political move, aimed chiefly at dispelling the impression of intransigence from the Turkish side and possibly creating the conditions for an informal recognition of the breakaway statelet. But the public on both sides of the Green Line transformed it into a major political event. It is the first optimistic sign of the beneficial effect which European prospects might have on the character of the solution. As EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen acknowledged, direct and spontaneous communication between the two communities has shattered the myth that the wounds of the past and 28 years of separation have made coexistence impossible. It is a significant political conclusion, which demonstrates how out of touch with reality the partial separation of a confederation, as in Kofi Annan’s proposal, was. Denktash rejects it because he wants full partition and the recognition of two states, but it is not certain that he expresses the true wishes of the majority of Turkish Cypriots, especially the younger generation. It would be naive to claim that the Turkish Cypriots have suddenly discovered the advantages of coexistence with the Greek Cypriots or are moved by the idea of Cypriot identity. They have simply realized that now is the great opportunity to change their lives and they are doing their best not to miss it. On the brink of bankruptcy, living in international isolation and under suffocating political pressure from the Denktash regime and Turkish troops, they rightly view participation in the EU as manna from heaven. It would guarantee them democracy, freedom, self-government and, above all, prosperity. Risks of the new But the entrance ticket into the European paradise is the reunification of Cyprus. It is here that the interests of the Turkish Cypriots and the Turkish regime diverge, and it is not surprising that their national connection with Turkey is showing the strain. The crucial political question is the effect of the new reality on the solution of the Cyprus issue, given that the wave of visits is not tourism. The money the Greek Cypriots are spending is an injection into the Turkish-Cypriot economy, which is on the verge of bankruptcy. And the measures announced a few days ago by government spokesman Kypros Chrysostomidis, done to show that the Republic of Cyprus is concerned about the welfare of its Turkish-Cypriot citizens, will also bring some relief. The measures include the right to get social welfare benefits, to work and sell their products in free Cyprus, and through it, abroad. On May 21, the European Commission will announce its own package, which includes economic aid of 15 million euros. The new reality entails some risks. The Cypriot government insistently advises Greek Cypriots not to stay at hotels that are expropriated Greek-Cypriot property. On the other hand, a great opportunity has emerged. The recent developments weaken the Turkish attempt to impose – de facto – two states on Cyprus. The Republic of Cyprus is further entrenched as a state and as two communities. And more and more Turkish Cypriots are asking the official Cypriot authorities for passports and other certificates. All of this facilitates a European solution to the Cyprus issue, but is not sufficient to secure one. Broader initiatives are needed to outflank the Denktash regime. The daring position outlined by the leader of the New Horizons party is of great interest: Nikos Koutsou purposed that Turkish Cypriots be allowed to vote in the Republic of Cyprus and that they be asked to fill the number of seats they are entitled to by the Cypriot Constitution. A Turkish Cypriot who lives in the free area has applied to the European Court for the right to vote and will probably win it. The question does not apply to that small category of people, however, but to all Turkish Cypriots. Obviously, polling stations cannot be set up in the occupied part of Cyprus, but now, with free movement, a polling booth for each electoral district in occupied Cyprus could be set up at the nearest crossing, where any Turkish Cypriot who wanted to could come and vote. The response would probably not be great, due to obstacles the Denktash regime would set up, but the political message would be sent. A delicate path Public opinion polls show that more than 10 percent of Turkish Cypriots are in favor not just of reunification but of a unified state. A far greater number support their reintegration into the Republic of Cyprus. This does not necessarily mean a return to the Zurich regime. The morphing of the state into a federation could easily be achieved through constitutional procedures, as was done in Belgium. The immediate formation of a mixed working group to elaborate the proposals concerned would be a great help in this direction. The truth is that the Greek-Cypriot political forces are treating such political overtures with caution, due to fear or real dangers. But now that matters have taken such a turn, it would be wrong to leave the initiative to the Turkish side. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who will visit occupied Cyprus on Friday, is expected to make some goodwill gestures, such as reducing the number of occupation troops and possibly handing over the uncolonized neighborhoods of Ammohostos to UN peacekeepers. Such a move would be welcomed by the Cypriot government, but in no way can it replace the search for an overall solution. The Turkish premier, who will have talks with Denktash and with opposition leaders, obviously wants to promote Mehmet Al Talat as leader of the Turkish Cypriots. If there are no upsets, this might happen at the December elections in occupied Cyprus. But in order to win, Talat must first beat all the mechanisms that support Denktash and are now supporting his son Serdar, who is trying to capitalize on the measure for freedom of movement and win the succession. The EU is not only a temptation to Turkish Cypriots in terms of the economy. It is also an umbrella that guarantees their security and, as mentioned above, provides the conditions of a free democracy. A new EU role It is the EU’s beneficial shadow which fed the momentum for rapprochement between the two neighbors and which has created the prospect of overcoming the previous negotiating framework and achieving a European solution. This does not mean that the Greek-Cypriot side will stop accepting the Annan plan as a basis for negotiations. But whenever it raises the issue of restarting talks, it will want and be able to ask for the plan to be amended – not so much to extract more for itself as to make the solution feasible and in line with the acquis communautaire. In other words, from now on Alvaro de Soto will not be able to take direction from Lord Hannay and resort to institutional contortions in his attempts to extract consent from Denktash. From now on it will be possible for an EU official to participate actively in the talks, so that any arrangements comply with the acquis communautaire. Once the accession treaty was signed, the situation changed. The Cyprus issue is now an EU problem, and the EU has a decisive part to play in developments. As Verheugen’s statements, among others, show, a solution has already become the prerequisite for dealing with Greek-Turkish bilateral relations. As the end of 2004 draws nearer, Ankara will realize it cannot bypass the Cyprus issue. Then, it will probably try to trade the solution for satisfaction of its demand for the start of its accession negotiations. And if operational accession comes off as planned (in May 2004), the Greek Cypriots’ position will be even more advantageous, in the sense that then the solution will of necessity be purely European, without the post-colonial elements of the Annan plan.