An announcement by United Nations special envoy for Cyprus Espen Barth Eide for the resumption of reunification talks on April 11, an initiative of Athens and Nicosia, came as something of a surprise. The timing seems odd, as it is very unlikely they will yield any results given that the meeting will take place just before the absolutely critical referendum in Turkey for expanding President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s powers.
Let us assume that the Greek and the Cypriot leaderships have good reason to believe that some progress will actually be made. If, however, the meeting is just another effort to highlight Turkish intransigence, then someone should remind them that the result of intensive talks in January was the exact opposite of that.
Overall, there is a prevailing sense that the way the Cyprus issue is being handled is not appropriate in regard to the situation that is developing in the region. The European dimension was the motivating factor the last time a serious effort was made in reunification talks because a solution was associated with significant potential for a big improvement in European-Turkish ties.
Things are very different right now. Relations between Ankara and the European Union – Germany and the Netherlands in particular – are at an all-time low. The UK, which was instrumental in shaping the Annan Plan, meanwhile, is caught up in Brexit negotiations.
Of the three guarantor powers, only Greece belongs to the European system, and the only link between Greece, the UK and Turkey is their NATO membership.
At a time when the crisis in the Middle East poses new challenged to the West’s security and interests, it is likely we will see greater demand for Cyprus to play a bigger role in the Atlantic alliance rather than Cyprus’s demilitarization, as Greece has proposed.
Another paradox is the apparently dysfunctional nature of ties between Greece and Britain, whose role in a Cyprus solution is unchallenged. Yet, last January, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias put part of the blame for the deadlock in talks on his British counterpart, Boris Johnson. Speaking in Nicosia a few days ago, meanwhile, he thought it appropriate to remind the world that Greece and Cyprus are no longer colonies – an obvious swipe at the UK. Last but not least, just a few days ago, Nicosia signed a military cooperation agreement that introduces a whole new parameter to the talks.
However, Athens has the opportunity to launch a fresh dialogue on the basis of recent development during Johnson’s visit Thursday.