Thursday, June 29, 2017

Time for Closure in Cyprus: Keeping the Faith

With the start of the new round of talks in Crans Montana on 28 June regarding the future of Cyprus, all the bets are on as to whether these will lead to a deal or be another part in a long process of reconciliation but not enough to cross the finish line. Although the momentum that was evident at the beginning of the year has significantly stalled, the United Nations through its good offices has managed to get the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities, the representatives of the three guarantor powers – Greece, Turkey, and the United Kingdom, and the representative of the interested party – the European Union, to return to the negotiating table.

The stakes are a historic deal in the making and the implications of a non-deal should the talks fail to yield positive results with the chances evenly divided for either outcome to prevail. 

The optimistic scenario stems from the fact that the leaders of the two communities – Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci -- have shown a remarkable degree of resilience albeit a number of setbacks that have injured their trust in each other but have failed to deter their faith in the possibility of a deal. In fact, most of the governance issues, the property issues, and the questions of missing persons are close to closure. This faith in the process has been helped significantly by the involvement and support of the growing and committed pro-solution civil society in both communities. Ever since the first opening of a crossing across the Green Line in April 2003 after nearly 30 years, and the subsequent opening of a number of crossings hence allowing Turkish Cypriots to visit the South and Greek Cypriots to visit the North, the number of pro-solution supporters across the divide has grown significantly. Civil society now plays a significant role in a number of the Technical Committees that have been established underpinning the attempts at political negotiation. These include, inter alia, the technical committees on gender equality, on environment, on cultural heritage, on border crossings, on education. The participation of a number of committed individuals from both communities in each committee working together to make proposals that the negotiators can work with has led to an ownership of the whole process where unlike the Annan Plan of 2004, the current agreement that is to be negotiated and drafted will be exclusively the product of the two sides, not the international community.

The civil society support and input has helped the negotiators keep the faith and overcome the possible lack of trust. It also sends a clear message to the guarantor powers that it would be hard for them to interfere in the formulas the two communities agree to. Civil society involvement has also led to the growing acceptance of widening the conception of security guarantees, as being primarily based on the number of troops the guarantor powers would like to maintain in the island as part of the deal, to a wider notion of human security where security is perceived in a more holistic fashion where issues such as the fate of the environment and climate change, the state of the economy, and gender equality are just as important notions of security. The presence of the European Union as an interested party in the process is also relevant given the fact that the Republic of Cyprus is a member state of the EU and that Turkish Cypriots are also considered citizens of the Union. In other words, whatever the final shape of the deal, united Cyprus will be part of the European Union.

The presence of the European Union and its declared intention to help in particular in the implementation of the deal when reached possibly provides political impetus to Turkey’s stalled relations with the European Union. In other words, should a solution be found in the pressing issues of security and guarantees with the consent of the three guarantor powers, Ankara could jumpstart its political ties with the European Union and provide new dynamism in the accession process or other areas of cooperation between the two sides. The stated intent of both Athens and Ankara to be constructive is hopeful.

Should the talks, which could last for as much as two weeks, stall or break down, it might be wise to find a mechanism to consolidate the points of accord and maybe even consider their implementation before a solution is found on all outstanding issues as the possibility of failure to advance further remains a strong possibility.

In other words, the parties should focus on keeping the faith in the process and bring to closure this decades-long conflict whose resolution would significantly impact positively on the bilateral relations between Greece and Turkey. This in itself in worth keeping the faith.


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