By Ozdem Sanberk
A new phase is unfolding in the Cyprus dispute and Turkey-European Union (EU) relations. The change was triggered by the recent visit to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) by Turkey’s Prime Minister, Mr Recep Tayyip Erdogan. During his visit the prime minister proposed that the talks on the future of the island should be speeded up and that a referendum should be held early in 2012. If that did not happen then Turkey would not acknowledge the Greek Cypriots when Southern Cyprus took over the rotating presidency of the EU in July 2012 and would freeze its relations with the EU. Erdogan’s words about a potential Cyprus settlement were interpreted as a challenge to the EU. The Greek premier, Mr Yiorgios Papandreou observed that Erdogan’s words smacked of an ultimatum and undermined prospects of a settlement
Negotiations without a timetable
Mr Papandreou is possibly unaware of the negative political atmosphere which prevails over the negotiations currently in process and which have no fixed time table. For the talks have long since ceased to be a basis for the two sides to set out their positions and search jointly for ways to bring them closer together. On the contrary, when each side gets up from the table it takes fresh decisions in its own territory intended to strengthen its position. The resolution of the Greek Cypriot Assembly in February 2010 opposing guarantors is one instance of this. This negative atmosphere leads undecided Greek Cypriot voters to shift towards voting against a settlement and bewilders Turkish Cypriot voters. Indeed several different polls have shown strikingly that a hesitant position on the Greek Cypriot side boosts the indecision of the Greek Cypriot population. According to surveys, efforts by the Greek Cypriots to strengthen their hand at the negotiating table are reflected in an 80% surge in distrust of the Turkish side. It is also ‘virtually certain’ that only 19% of Greek Cypriot votes would vote yes for a possible referendum on a settlement.
The real sticking point is not Turkish diplomacy but the willingness of Greek Cypriots to live together with Greek Cypriots. Ever since the time of the Annan Plan in 2004 the Turkish Cypriot side, led by Turkey, has been the side which is continually taking initiatives to get the UN to act. Of course it is obvious that all the initiatives cannot be expected to come from the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey. But on this point, that is regarding a settlement, it is impossible to prevail upon the will of the south of the island.
The EU of course let the Greek Cypriots become a full member and represent the whole of the island without achieving a comprehensive settlement and it current does not display the will needed to influence the Greek Cypriot attitude. As a result Turkish-EU relations are deadlocked. Whereas it should have been generally accepted at the outset that if the referendum on the Annan Plan did not have a suitable result, both sides would suffer from the continuation of the dispute. If the Greek Cypriots believed that they would suffer no loss as a result of the problem continuing, then they were never going to agree to a settlement based on power-sharing with the Turkish Cypriots – and indeed they did not
Towards a two state situation…
By not insisting that both sides should win or lose out together and putting pressure on one side, the EU has ceased to be impartial in the Cyprus problem and got nowhere. With this sort of outlook the EU has preferred to view Turkey’s recent initiative simply as part of the impasse. Whereas the essence of Mr Erdoğan’s remarks was a call for the speeding up of efforts in the period ahead of us to secure a bicommunal and bizonal solution with the parameters laid down by the UN. This approach is aimed at benefiting both sides with projects to support the economic development of the north of the island. The Cyprus Peace Water Project, something that would diversify Greek Cypriot energy production, till now dependent on oil, is one of the first steps in this approach.
However it seems rather impossible to alter ingrained misperceptions and cultural signals. Eve when an explosion at a power station recently left Greek Cyprus in the dark and the TRNC stepped into to supply part of the electricity it needed, the Greek Cypriot Orthodox church opposed it. So it would appear that the island is rapidly heading for a two-state outcome.
Director of USAK