By Menekse Tokyay
During a visit to Northern Cyprus earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that he expects the conflict to be solved before Cyprus holds the rotating EU presidency — an ambitious target considering the many issues remaining to be hammered out.
The fear is that under Cypriot leadership, set to begin in the second half of 2012, EU-Turkey relations could freeze.
However, Ahmet Sozen, director of the Cyprus Policy Centre and scholar at the International Relations Department at Eastern Mediterranean University, argues that Turkey’s EU accession process is not the only determination nudging negotiations forward. “AK Party would remain pro-solution even if there would not be any EU membership perspective for Turkey,” he tells SETimes.
Still, it is significant that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who hosted a new round of talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders in Geneva on July 7th, imposed a specific timeframe.
“By October the leaders will be able to report that they have reached convergence on all core issues,” he said at a press conference.
In the coming months, the UN team is expected to take a much more active role at the peace process as Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders intensify their talks until October. Then, in the event of a consensus on core issues — EU membership, economy, governance, security, property and territory — a high-level international conference on Cyprus, under the auspices of the UN, is planned before the end of the year.
“The UN is changing towards a more active role in approximating the parties and bridging proposals,” Sozen argues, warning, however, that “the UN should play its cards better this time.”
The success of this conference — involving the guarantor states (Turkey, Greece and Britain) and the EU — will lead to a final settlement and a referendum for both sides by May, before the Greek Cypriots take the reins of the EU presidency.
However, memories of the 2004 referendum are still fresh, when Turkish Cypriots voted for reunification, while the Greek side rejected it.
Didem Akyel, from the Turkey/Cyprus project of the International Crisis Group, tells SETimes that “leaders urgently need to start preparing public opinion on both sides for a compromise, if they hope to get a positive result in simultaneous referenda.”
On the other hand, it seems that the international community is becoming increasingly fed up with the Cyprus issue and the intransigence of its two leaders.
“Leaders in both Cyprus and Turkey need to look forward into the future and into the economic and political benefits that a lasting peaceful settlement of the Cyprus problem will yield to all parties, rather than waste time in trying to interpret the current status quo,” acting President of the United Democrats of Cyprus Praxoula Antoniadou Kyriacou told SETimes.
Besides, he adds, “The AK Party and Prime Minister Erdogan have a golden opportunity not only to prove that they have a pro-solution stance, but to actually contribute to the attainment of the solution itself.”