A selection of experts answer a new question from Judy Dempsey on the foreign and security policy challenges shaping Europe’s role in the world.
Thanos DokosDirector general of the Hellenic Foundation for European and Foreign Policy (ELIAMEP)
The reluctance of Greek Cypriots to take the risk of cohabitation with Turkish Cypriots and Turkey’s refusal to relax its strategic grip over Cyprus can explain the failure to resolve the division of the island after more than forty years of negotiations. Now, the stars have aligned for a solution as far as the leaders of the two communities are concerned, and significant progress has been achieved during intercommunal negotiations.
Although important disagreements remain on issues like governance and territory, the real stumbling block is security, and this is one of the issues on which decisions are made exclusively in Ankara, not in Cyprus. Turkey appears unwilling to make any meaningful concessions on the full (albeit gradual) withdrawal of all foreign troops from the island or on the roles of the guarantor powers—Britain, Greece, and Turkey. It sounds almost incredible that a non-EU country would have the right of unilateral military intervention in an EU member state. The security concerns of Turkish Cypriots will need to be addressed through a system of implementation guarantees and a multinational police force.
Should Ankara show the necessary goodwill, there is a fair chance that Greek Cypriots will take the big step of endorsing reunification. Concerns about the functionality and viability of the proposed unified state continue to linger, however.
Fadi HakuraAssociate fellow in the Europe Program at Chatham House
Cyprus is on the cusp of reunification or failure, depending on the willingness of Greeks and Turks to compromise.
So far, the Turkish side has been reticent to relinquish so-called guarantees—the rights of Greece, Turkey, and the UK to intervene politically and even militarily in Cyprus to protect the status quo on the island—which are abhorred by Greek Cypriots. Meanwhile, the latter will not accept the equal power sharing sought by the less numerous Turkish Cypriots. Similarly, the Turks will neither enlarge the size of the territory to be returned to Greek Cypriot control nor withdraw all of their more than 30,000 troops from the island.
Unless these intractable issues are resolved on the basis of mutual trust, this exercise is doomed to futility.
Nicholas KaridesDirector of Ampersand Public Affairs
The running mantra on reunifying Cyprus is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and behind the pomp at the Geneva settlement talks, everything is far from settled—though not necessarily unbridgeable. But even if there were a formal agreement, there would still be referenda to labor over.
Differences remain on key issues: Greek Cypriots do not want third-party guarantees of the island’s security, remnants of the 1960 postcolonial arrangement, while the Turkish Cypriot side cannot do without Turkey’s assurances. The former expect a specific area of land in the North to be returned to Greek Cypriot control as part of the territorial adjustments for a high number of returning refugees; the Turkish Cypriots vow not to relinquish the territory.
Yet the key element that renders any forecasting immaterial is the unpredictability of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who will have the final say. Inevitably, the key factor for Greek Cypriots is that they cannot trust Turkey at this time and prefer a clean break with no Turkish troops left behind. As things stand, the EU, which much to Erdoğan’s irritation has become a key player in the process, cannot trust him either.
The bottom line is that this is the closest the two sides have come to an accord. Along with the volatile geopolitical context as well as newfound rich energy resources, this has crystalized minds. Whether the two communities will strike a formal deal or slide into an awkward postcollapse endgame remains unknown.
Michael LeighSenior fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States
Political bluster from Ankara and Athens has led some to conclude that the Cyprus settlement talks in Geneva have stalled. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, they claim, will not move on Cyprus until he has secured an executive presidency at home. High-ranking Turkish military officers in the northern part of the island have reportedly been arrested and deported to Turkey. Russia, some argue, blocked progress behind the scenes to deny the West a breakthrough and protect its own citizens’ interests.
Measured against realistic expectations, however, the talks in Geneva marked progress toward a settlement. For the first time, the two sides exchanged maps that differ only by 1 percent, admittedly in sensitive areas, for the delimitation of the two zones on the island. The Turkish side came to the table and agreed to talk security. The leaders of the two communities defended their respective positions on security, territory, and a rotating presidency, as expected. But both agreed to continue efforts immediately at the level of their deputies. Any nefarious Russian influence was not apparent. The European Commission president and new UN secretary general made positive contributions in Geneva.
Waiting for Erdoğan is an old game, and few would hazard a prediction. But on balance, the Geneva talks moved the settlement process forward.
Marc PieriniVisiting scholar at Carnegie Europe
Negotiations on a reunification deal between the two Cypriot communities have entered a decisive phase. Hopes have surfaced on many occasions in the past, but never before has the commitment of the two leaders concerned, Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akıncı, been this firm.
The talks have now come down to two points: the delineation of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot regions; and the rhythm of the political alternation between the two communities at the top of the state. These are the two most critical issues to be resolved, and the positions currently on the table differ substantially. Optimism should therefore be cautious.
In comparison, other thorny issues—such as the return of properties in the North and the South of the island belonging to Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots respectively—seem relatively easier to handle. So are issues linked to the fact that an agreement would make the entire island a member of the EU, such as aligning Turkish Cypriot laws with EU legislation and making Turkish an official EU language.
However, hammering out an agreement will also involve the consent of the three guarantor powers—Greece, Turkey, and the UK—and, inevitably, the withdrawal of Turkish troops from the reunified island, possibly phased over a period of time. Here lies another critical hurdle.
Nathalie TocciDeputy director of the Italian Institute for International Affairs
The Cyprus reunification talks are nearing an end. Facilitated by the UN, the negotiations unfolding at Mont Pèlerin, near Geneva, between the two Cypriot communities and the three guarantor powers, with the EU as an observer, focus on the security arrangements in postsettlement Cyprus.
Security has always been one of the hardest nuts to crack in the Cyprus conflict. It has generally been among the last dossiers to be opened, and in 2004 it was one of the major reasons that led the Greek Cypriot community to reject the Annan Plan aimed at resolving the dispute. Today, agreement on other issues—governance, the economy, and property—may have become somewhat easier, but on security it has not. With Turkey’s relations with the West, including the EU and NATO, on the edge and Russian-Western ties at a nadir, an agreement on security is far more complex today than it was in 2004.
Yet this is not only the best chance to reunify the island since the conflict first broke out in 1963. It is arguably also the last chance for a bizonal and bicommunal federal settlement. Seizing the opportunity would at once solve a decades-old conflict, lead to a U-turn in Turkey’s relations with the EU, and demonstrate to the region and the world that Europe still is a project of peace and reconciliation.
Dimitrios TriantaphyllouChair of the Department of International Relations and director of the Center for International and European Studies at Kadir Has University in Istanbul
The short answer would be “yes,” but the process is more convoluted. Unlike the talks that led to the ill-fated Annan Plan of 2004, current negotiations on reunifying Cyprus suggest that a deal is possible. This has to do with the fact that the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities are committed to finding a solution and have mobilized civil-society support to assist them in their efforts. As a result, the two sides have instilled in the process a dose of empathy that, should a deal be reached, would help it pass the referendum stage.
Last week’s talks in Geneva suggested further progress, as for the first time, all the guarantor powers seemed committed to addressing the Gordian knot of guarantees and security, in spite of their usual doublespeak. The active, high-level presence of the European Union as an observer is also encouraging and might be telling of a bigger deal in the offing that could contribute significantly to EU-Turkish and Greek-Turkish relations.
Hence, the solution lies in the guarantor powers moving beyond their redlines and recognizing that the status quo is unacceptable both to their own perceived interests and to those of Cypriots.