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Difficult choices facing Athens and Nicosia in crucial stage of search for solution in Cyprus

The Cyprus issue is at the end of its most crucial phase since the Turkish invasion of 1974, although for the moment, no one can be sure about the outcome. The only certainty is that there is no going back. In other words, no matter who wins the current diplomatic tug of war, Cyprus will soon find itself under a different type of regime than the current one. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan’s long-awaited plan is to be announced today, clarifying the framework for the negotiations to come. Indications of the content of the plan have given cause for concern. However, as they are only indications and as observations on the Cyprus issue have often been of decisive importance, it would be incautious at this moment to make any evaluations. According to sources, however, the system being suggested is a unique combination of a federation and a confederation. The Turkish side’s maximalist demand for recognition of two sovereign states, loosely linked, has not been accepted. Nor, on the other hand, has the basic principle of a federal system, which is a united and indivisible sovereignty. The same sources claim that the plan falls in with that presented by Britain’s Cyprus envoy Sir David Hannay: state sovereignty in both foreign and domestic affairs. There will be one Cypriot Republic. In other words, both within the European Union and in other international relations, the State will be one entity with one voice. Internal sovereignty, however, will be split. Both sides will not only have extensive authorities with regard to self-government, but will each have its own parliamentary body, responsible for an entire range of issues. As for the type of regime, there are several alternatives. The choice between a presidential system or a parliamentary democracy, with a president as head of state, has been left open. What is certain is that there will be a rotating leadership, guaranteed by a constitutional provision that the president (or prime minister) from the same community will not be electable for a third term. In practice, this means that as a rule a Greek-Cypriot president (or prime minister) will be elected for two terms and a Turkish Cypriot for one term, a ratio of two to one. The plan also calls for a deputy president (or prime minister) from the other community; when a Greek Cypriot is president (or prime minister) the deputy will be Turkish Cypriot, and vice versa. It is not yet clear whether the president would be elected by the entire population or only by the one community. If the former, it is clear that political alliances would be intercommunal. At federal level, however, there will be two houses of parliament. In the one house, both communities will be represented proportionately, and in the other, 50-50. The entire edifice is extremely complicated and unwieldy for a state with less than 800,000 inhabitants, but this is by no means its greatest disadvantage. How will decisions be reached when the two communities disagree? When a compromise cannot be found, what position will each Cypriot minister take at EU Council meetings? As these disagreements are sure to arise, particularly in the early years, there will have to be an effective mechanism for lifting stalemates. Otherwise, political crises will be the order of the day. Averting stalemates A highly placed Cypriot source said the Annan plan provides for an unorthodox method of averting stalemates, but would not give further clues. However, this question is the key to making the plan functional and concerns not only the Greek Cypriots but the Turkish Cypriots too. It also concerns the European Union, which naturally does not want Cyprus’s domestic disputes to be brought into EU bodies. Naturally, the solution also has to be completely compatible with the acquis communautaire, since Cyprus is soon to become an EU member. Over the past few days there has been much discussion about the adoption of the «Belgian model,» just as in the past there was talk about the Swiss system. The truth is that during the intercommunal talks, Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash suggested various proposals based on one model or another. Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides always replied that he was willing to accept the Belgian, Swiss or any other existing system as a basis for negotiations on the condition that it would be accepted in its entirety. Denktash, however, persistently rejected this idea, choosing what suited him from each model in order to support his idea of two states: From the Belgian system, the two communities’ means of representation in EU bodies; from the Swiss, the term «confederation» and, in part, the way central government functioned. He even invoked the American system on individual issues. As a result, he never entered into a serious discussion on any one of the existing models. When Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced after his electoral victory in Turkey that the Cyprus issue could be resolved on the basis of the Belgian model, he was called to order. The outgoing foreign minister said he know nothing about it, while the Foreign Ministry issued a statement indirectly calling on Erdogan to follow the existing state policy. The truth is that Costas Simitis’s government in Athens handled Erdogan badly. It was correct to invite him to Athens, but wrong to accept enthusiastically his statement about the Belgian model, which only served to raise people’s hopes. Clumsy relations Athens’s clumsiness effectively prevented Erdogan from approaching the Cyprus issue and Greek-Turkish relations in the most creative way possible. It actually pushed him in the opposite direction, forcing him to prove his nationalist credentials, not only by revising his original statement and speaking about two states in Cyprus, but also deciding to visit the occupied territories to take part in the 19th anniversary of the unilateral declaration of the Turkish-Cypriot state, just three days before his visit to Athens. Athens and Nicosia have an interest in solving the Cyprus issue before the EU’s Copenhagen summit, first of all because they want the reunification of Cyprus. Secondly, they want to facilitate Cyprus’s EU accession process. Thirdly, Ankara is likely to carry out its threat to indirectly annex the occupied territory if Cyprus joins the EU before the issue is resolved. Such a move, of course, would entail a high diplomatic cost, testing EU-Turkish relations at a time when one of Turkey’s immediate foreign policy priorities is to get a commitment from the EU for a starting date for its own accession talks. Nevertheless, it cannot be ruled out. Athens and Nicosia are taking it into consideration, but in order for them to accept a solution, it has to be acceptable (not to mention that it must be just) from the national point of view and, of course, it has to be functional as well as compatible with the acquis communautaire. Since there has been much propaganda about Hellenism’s need to make an historic compromise on the Cyprus issue, it should be emphasized that this has already been made, in that 82 percent of the population has already accepted a bizonal, intercommunal federation. Nevertheless, a federation is the only way the Cypriot Republic can function both on the domestic front and within the EU. A confederation, as the Turkish side sees it, cannot function in any context, unless one repeats the Bosnia experiment. The Simitis government should prepare the ground systematically in view of the Copenhagen summit next month, having sent the message to its EU partners that there can be no expansion of the EU without Cyprus. No matter what the fate of the Annan plan may be, Cyprus has to join along with the other nine candidate states. Any attempt to cut Cyprus out of the process should be rejected outright. Accession should be unconditional. Nor, under any circumstances, should acceptance of the Annan plan be a condition, as the Americans reportedly would like to see. From both the institutional and political points of view, Athens has the ability to maintain this stance. Its EU partners do not want to inherit the Cyprus issue, but they recognize that Cyprus has fulfilled its accession criteria. Particularly after the Helsinki declaration, Cyprus’s accession has been politically accepted. According to reliable sources, Simitis and Foreign Minister George Papandreou’s recent meetings in Europe were an attempt to lift obstacles to such a move. As even the most intensive negotiations take time, it is unlikely a solution will be found within the next month before the Copenhagen summit. This could only occur in the event of an ultimatum, but neither the Greek nor the Turkish side would accept that. Talks could continue until after the 15 EU member states take their political decision on enlargement, including the accession of Cyprus. Clerides’s statement asking for Annan’s plan to be submitted after the elections in Cyprus (February 2003) is not unrelated to this process. The request was ignored, but was indicative not only of his own concerns but of the potential for friction between Athens and Nicosia. For the Greek Cypriots, the Annan plan is not something that affects the national interest in the general and the abstract. Any approval or rejection now will have a direct impact on their security and prosperity.