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November 04, 2011, Friday

Cyprus after Long Island: a milestone towards reunification

None of the three parties directly involved with the Cyprus talks held last Monday in New York, nor any serious observer elsewhere, would have expected that the reunification of the divided island nation would be announced there, or that any progress made would be communicated differently than it has been in past attempts to overcome the Cyprus impasse, in which decisions have been delivered in instalments only, never settling the full outstanding balance.

At the same time, writing on this topic carries the risk of being called political names: One might be a one-sided defender of either the North or the South, respectively, or one could be categorized as either pro-Ankara or pro-Athens instead. More nuanced critics would at least ask whether you favour unification per se or prefer another Kosovo in the making, but reality is much more complicated.

In this column I will dare to suggest that we let bygones be bygones and refrain from once more focusing on either the 2004 referendum or why it was a grave error on Brussels’ part to allow a part of the divided Cyprus to become a full EU member state. I felt sad about the first and shocked about the latter, but nevertheless, it is time to look ahead. The news that trickled in from Long Island early last week was that apparently a realistic roadmap for reunification may lie just around the corner -- that is, after the next reunion of northern Cyprus, southern Cyprus and the UN, scheduled for January 2012.

Whether UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s optimism with regards to the likelihood of striking a deal during that next crucial get-together is justified remains to be seen, as any trustworthy old Cyprus hand can confirm that the work involved in finding a solution to this problem will be cumbersome to say the least. Nevertheless, initial comments received not just from the host himself (actually, Ban Ki-moon had participated in a fair share of proceedings) but also from those politicians in the driving seat -- Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Derviş Eroğlu -- sound very encouraging indeed.

Because the issue is hotly debated among both electorates, it is impossible to simply declare that it will be decided behind closed doors by politicians. Any agreement standing a chance of being accepted at all both in the South and the North must first and foremost consider the impacts on both peoples.

Personally speaking, I do expect that great benefits are in store for both sides upon reunification. Cyprus is an island with huge economic and human capital potential, which is largely untapped. Cyprus could become a brand in its own right, with the two sides’ enormous combined potential in the tourism sector. A united Cyprus could attract massive foreign direct investment leading to much-needed additional employment opportunities in other industry sectors. Cyprus would continue to benefit from close yet “just friendly” relations with both Athens and Ankara. Much-improved access to consumer and buyer as well as private investor markets would be within the reach of a united Cyprus, too. Besides, Cyprus would have a much stronger voice within the EU and would no longer be seen as being there for only one reason, i.e. blocking Turkey’s EU accession. Above all else, both peoples would once more feel as one. The world would look positively at Cyprus, one of the last remaining divided nations, which will then have overcome its troubles by means of reconciliation and by looking forward, not backward.

Let the negotiation delegations work out the final details about how to govern a federal Cyprus, how to solve the remaining property issues and how quickly the northern part of the island could become EU-ready. Legally speaking this can most likely happen overnight, similar to what happened with the former East Germany on the day after reunification, albeit with the clear knowledge that in this case, technically speaking, EU harmonization will have to be achieved retrospectively. Difficult, but most definitely possible!

By now I have probably been filed in various political drawers by my various readers, and I haven’t even mentioned the recent crisis in the eurozone. I don’t mind at all, as long as the January meeting under the UN’s umbrella yields a final tally that will result in a reunited Cyprus by late summer 2012.

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