The Cyprus conflict is one of the world’s longest running international conflicts. Since 1974, Cyprus has been divided into a Greek Cypriot part, the Republic of Cyprus, and a northern Turkish Cypriot part on one-third of the island. In 1983 the northern part declared itself the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognized by Turkey. A settlement has remained out of reach despite a UN-led peace process. The latest round of talks in June 2017 in the Swiss ski resort Crans-Montana collapsed after 10 days with both sides blaming each-other for the failure.
Cyprus became an EU member state in 2004 on the assumption that the conflict would be resolved under the so-called Annan plan, named after UNs former secretary-general Kofi Annan, but his plan was rejected by the Greek Cypriots in a referendum while the Turkish Cypriots accepted it.
Since then several attempts have been made to reach a compromise that would be acceptable to both parties. The northern part finds itself in a legal limbo without access to EU’s internal market while receiving EU funding for institution building and infrastructure to prepare itself for becoming part of EU once the conflict is solved.
In March, the Turkish Cypriot parliament sent an open letter to the European Parliament complaining about the isolation of the Turkish-Cypriot community and the lack of any representation rights in the EU or even access to the premises in the European Parliament. “Dialogue is the only way to peaceful co-existence,” says the letter.
The Turkish Cypriot community feels that its access to the international community is limited. When a Turkish Cypriot parliamentary delegation visited Brussels to voice its opinion and to meet EU representatives, The Brussels Times took the opportunity to ask the delegation about some of the outstanding issues.
The delegation consisted of Erek Cagatay (People’s Party, HP), Oguzhan Hasipoglu (National Unity Party, UBP) and Fikri Toros (Republican Turkish Party, CTP/former head of the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce). The replies we received are on behalf of the delegation.
According to the delegation, the Turkish Cypriot community faces restrictions in travel, tourism and trade.
“The Turkish Cypriot community was promised three regulations by EU. These were direct trade with EU, financial aid and the Green Line Regulation on trade between the two communities. Among the three, the most vital one on direct trade wasn’t enacted and Green Line trade covers only locally manufactured products.”
As a result, exports from northern Cyprus to EU has fallen from 77 % in the early 1990s to less than 10 % of total exports. Products from northern Cyprus are mainly exported to Turkey or to a number of other Middle Eastern countries via Turkey. Tourist groups which have booked holidays in the northern part are prohibited from entering the island through the airports in the southern part.
“The adoption of the direct trade regulation would help to reverse the fall in EU trade and the resulting high dependancy of the Turkish Cypriot economy on external aid,” adds Lale Shener, Brussels Representative of the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce.
“Measures to promote the economic development of northern Cyprus aren’t precluded by the suspension of EU law (acquis) in the north. Our expectation is that the EU will exploit this legal basis to the full and take all the concrete measures to remove the restrictions that impede the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community,” she says.
She believes that economic development would make the Turkish Cypriot community feel more secure and lower the Greek Cypriot community’s concerns about the impact of a settlement on the economy.
“There is a clear economic gap between the two communities on the island,” stresses the delegation and refers to GDP per capita in the northern part which is less than half of that in the southern part. “That’s why economy has been added as one of the negotiating chapters with the aim of narrowing the economic gap.”
The delegation does not want to speculate about the resumption of negotiations between the two sides in the near future. “It would be more productive to look at the methodology in place. Talks have been underway for 50 years and we really don’t have the luxury to continue with the process for another fifty more years.”
“We have to get rid of the uncertainty in the lives of the Turkish Cypriots. Therefore, we don’t want to see yet another open-ended process in place. On the contrary, we need a time line and a result oriented process. The end of the process for both communities must be spelled out clearly.”
The delegation underlines that the Turkish Cypriot community favors a solution in line with UN resolutions - a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation based on political equality - but adds that whatever will be decided must be accepted by both sides through a process of dialogue and negotiation.
UN-led negotiations on solving the Cyprus issues have been going on for years but have failed until now. EU plays an important role as an “active observer” in the negotiations but is not willing to upgrade its role. Sources in the European Commission told The Brussels Times that “it’s important that we maintain a division of labour between EU and UN.”
That said, the Commission adds that it “stands ready as ever to assist the UN and the parties in the efforts to bring the division of the island to an end and achieve the reunification of Cyprus.”
The delegation seems to agree with this approach because it does not consider EU as a neutral mediator. “Both sides have accepted that the desired solution on the island will be in compliance with EU directives. This is one of the positive outcomes of the peace talks.”
However until that time, EU must remain as an observer only at the negotiations table because of its internal decision making processes, explains the delegation.
“EU as a whole is a party to the conflict. In fact, it has violated its own principles by admitting a conflicted and divided island into the Union as a full member although there is an ongoing process to resolve the conflict.”
Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı said recently that the negotiation process is blocked on the issue of a rotating presidency. Such a system, whereby the post as president is held alternatively by a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot leader, is essential for the Turkish Cypriots.
Could a change of the constitution to a parliamentary democracy, where the president has only a ceremonial role, resolve the issue? “It was the Greek Cypriot leadership that suspended the constitutional articles that gave the Turkish Cypriot community political equality,” replies the delegation.
“As part of the bigger picture, the rotating presidency could be seen as a symbolic step. However, it’s important that the Greek Cypriot community accepts the fact that a Turkish Cypriot can become president of Federal Cyprus. This is in line with the principles of bi-communality and democracy which are amongst the UN and EU parameters for a solution.”
Relations between the two sides deteriorated after Turkey stopped Greek Cypriot exploration for natural gas in the territorial waters of Cyprus. Revenues from natural gas would contribute to a solution of the Cyprus issue and the development of the whole island.
In its conclusions of 22 March, the European Council condemned “Turkey’s continued illegal actions” and called on Turkey to “cease these actions and respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus to explore and exploit its natural resources in accordance with EU and International Law.”
Asked about its opinion on the Turkish actions, the delegation agreed that natural gas revenues could finance a solution of the conflict and promote economic development of the whole island. “The Turkish Cypriot side has been pointing out these positive aspects of natural gas resources since 2010 and we have also been highlighting the potential threats against them.”
According to the delegation, the issue of hydrocarbons is not included in the ongoing negotiations process because both communities, as well as the relevant and international actors, have accepted the fact that the natural reserves belong to both communities on the island. There is a written convergence paper stating that natural resources shall be under federal competence.
The issue is about exploring the natural resources when there is no agreement on a solution of the conflict. The Turkish Cypriot side has put forward a proposal for the establishment of a common committee on hydrocarbon exploration starting from now.
But in the absence of any cooperation, both sides have unilaterally declared their own exclusive economic zones in the sea surrounding them and granted licenses to international companies to explore the resources.
“We need to underline that there was an infringement of Turkish Cypriot rights and interests,” says the delegation. “The Greek Cypriot side should understand that the natural resources around the island belong to both communities on the island. We believe in a “win- win” solution for both sides.”
While supporting Turkey, the delegation thinks that a solution to the exploration of natural gas in the territorial waters of Cyprus should be found by diplomatic means and not by force.
The Brussels Times