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Fate of Cyprus in the balance

As a historian I got used to the appearance of a recurrent theme in the long chain of efforts to reach a political settlement in the Cyprus question during the last 40 years. This constant has been the claim of every aspiring peacemaker or mediator who believes that his effort represents a unique opportunity for a political settlement which should not be missed. The opportunities, however, real or imaginary, passed one after the other and the Cypriot question remains unresolved. As a consequence, the de facto partition of the island continues. I would dare to claim, however, that the last effort undertaken by the UN secretary-general, backed by Washington, London and Brussels, provides a unique opportunity for a lasting political settlement. It is not only the content of the so-called Annan plan that presents us with this chance. In fact, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s plan stipulates a power-sharing mechanism that will not necessarily prove to be easily workable. Moreover, the secretary-general’s model includes certain derogations from the «acquis communautaire» which restrict the «three freedoms» (property ownership, movement and settlement) so much cherished by the Greek-Cypriot community. What nevertheless makes the Annan plan a workable solution is not its stipulations but the fact that its application is interwoven with Cyprus’s accession to the European Union. Although it would be inconceivable to think that a reunified Cyprus in Europe would extricate the island from the tangle of Turkey’s interests, the European prospect provides a clear break from the past, in the sense that a reunified Cyprus would no longer be linked to the issue of Turkish candidacy for membership in the European Union. If, on the other hand, Cyprus enters the EU on May 1 without a political settlement, then the possibility of a protracted partition cannot be ruled out since reunification would be conditional on Turkey’s future status in relation to the EU. The Greek part of Cyprus has been living in uncertainty for at least 30 years and it might not be able to bear the uncertainty for much longer. There is, unfortunately, a new element in the equation which makes partition a statistically more likely prospect. There should be no doubt that, deprived of a political settlement, EU countries will look for a pragmatic accommodation to the «realities» of the situation. This accommodation, not necessarily in the form of formal diplomatic recognition, would not be less real or binding. In other words, it would not be practical politics to expect that Cyprus will be able to utilize European Union membership in a manner that would engage its European partners in an open conflict with Ankara for Cyprus’s sake. Thus, especially in the undesirable case of Turkey’s exclusion from the European Union following the December 2004 EU summit, the prospect of a Cyprus settlement will disappear for all practical purposes. This trend would be reinforced, no doubt, since in the case of Turkey’s permanent exclusion from the EU, Washington would not have a good reason to continue promoting a political settlement of the Cyprus question. This leads us to the heart of the dilemma facing Nicosia: Is the prospect of partition less painful than a political compromise along the lines of the Annan plan? In other words, does the cost of the plan exceed the cost of partition? This writer’s answer is negative. Partition is emotionally unbearable for the Greek Cypriots. It is clear that even those who would prefer it to a crypto-confederation would not be able to advocate it in public. Seen in this light, the picture of the Annan plan might not appear bleak: Deviations from the acquis communautaire are the necessary preconditions to extract Turkish consent for a settlement. In addition, no doubt should remain that these deviations from community rules do not constitute a major setback from a European Union point of view. Furthermore, the realities of the post-accession situation and particularly the realities of market forces could well lead to the amelioration of otherwise inflexible provisions of the Annan plan. In the last analysis, it is not at all certain that these protective clauses will prohibit the smooth coexistence of the two communities on the island. (1) Sotiris Rizas is a senior research fellow at the Research Center for Modern Hellenic History/Academy of Athens.