In July 2012, Cyprus takes over the presidency of the European Union and in one aspect it is already a grave disappointment. The goal of a united Cyprus presiding over the EU has been missed.
The lack of a political resolution for 40 years is a testament to a failure of political will and imagination. In 2004, the UN-facilitated talks aimed at reunification were rejected by the majority of the Greek Cypriots in a referendum. Further reunification negotiations under way since 2008 are now at an impasse. At the Greentree Summit in January 2012, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was “disappointed with the lack of progress” and noted that negotiations on particularly sensitive issues are “close to deadlock.” On April 21, 2012, Ban declared that due to insufficient progress in the negotiations there would be no international conference this year.
Today it is clear that everyone has lost by the continued uncertainty. Neither Greek nor Turkish Cypriots can fulfill their economic potential in a divided, economically curtailed and militarized island with an uncertain future. More than 200,000 Cypriots are still internally displaced.
Furthermore, the economic crisis has struck the Cypriots hard and has emphasized the unhealthy economic links with the so-called “motherlands.” On one hand, it has emphasized relations of dependency and hence lack of autonomy of the Turkish Cypriots versus Turkey, and on the other, it has indicated that the financial investments made by Greek Cypriots in Greece were excessive and risky and to the detriment of the Cypriot economy. In addition, the Turkish Cypriots are cut off from the EU without the means to trade or travel there directly, though they are EU citizens. At the same time, Turkish ports are closed to vessels carrying the Cyprus flag.
However, the real cost of the continued conflict is something far more insidious. In January 2012, Ban noted that “the longer the talks have been drawn out, the more disillusioned the public has become and the harder it has become to conclude agreements.” A new generation is growing up for whom the dividing Green Line is considered part of normality and who have not been allowed to appreciate that the reunification of Cyprus will yield substantial economic benefits, sufficient to take the country out of the current economic recession, into growth, employment and prosperity.
As a result, both sides indulge in horse-trading, add additional conditions and ask the other side to take the first step and engage in a “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed” style of negotiating. As our politicians dither, faith in the process is eroded, divisions harden and a growing indifference takes hold of the people of Cyprus. As liberals, we count it as a great loss when barriers between people and cultures are erected and persevere. The discovery of natural gas in Cyprus could serve to bring home the possibility of a win-win outcome. However it will require wise political management on the part of all parties involved. In this sense, it is an opportunity for make or break. The resolution of the Cyprus problem in a way that will reunify the island will allow all the Cypriots to participate in the economic development and to share the benefits that the exploitation of the island’s natural wealth will bring.
At the same time, it will allow the normalization of relations with Turkey, so that Cyprus and Turkey can become partners in peace to the benefit of all the Cypriots, Turkey, Greece and of the whole area of the eastern Mediterranean. Such a development will also benefit the European Union in its entirety, since the union is currently looking for new sources of natural gas as a bridging solution to the fuller inclusion of renewables in the energy balance. The southern conveyor corridor envisaged by the proposed regulation on trans-European energy infrastructures is but a case in point.
A political solution will reunify the island and lead to its demilitarization would also save significant numbers of UN peacekeepers currently holding the peace in Cyprus and who may be urgently needed elsewhere. It will also relieve the Cypriots of a compulsory two-year army service which is reminiscent of conscription in previous centuries. Most importantly it will save Cyprus a severe burden on its public finances and allow military expenditure to be channeled towards economically productive investments.
The EU should have been the key peace broker in this conflict. Its role has been hampered by a warped concept of EU solidarity which prevents member states overruling other members or effectively guiding candidate countries when it comes to issues considered to be of national interest. This is not acceptable. A feeble and thwarted EU will find its credibility considerably diminished if it cannot resolve a conflict within its own borders. There is also a more fundamental point. A divided Cyprus, a member of the EU since 2004, is to both mock and undermine the European project. We have been reconciling, reconstructing and uniting an entire continent and yet within our own borders Cyprus still remains fractious, divided and restive.
As Cyprus takes the EU presidency and the world’s attention turns to the island, Cypriot leaders have a historic opportunity. It is time for all parties to put aside their grievances, make the necessary sacrifices and consider their shared future with the EU. The moment for change is slipping away. It is time for Cypriots, and all Europeans, including Turkey and Greece, to wake up to that reality.
With the above in view, the European Liberal Democrats are calling -- through their resolution on Cyprus of May 2012 -- for an agreed solution unifying Cyprus by the end of the Cyprus EU presidency. It is a goal that can be achieved given political will and vision.
We believe that ways to break the current stalemate do exist. We propose that the enclosed city of Varosha be returned to its original inhabitants, at the same time that the port of Famagusta and the airport of Ercan are opened. At the same time, Turkey opens one major airport and major port to Cypriot vessels and a number of chapters are opened for negotiation in the framework of Turkey’s EU accession process.
We call upon true leaders in Cyprus, Turkey, Greece and the whole of the European Union to demonstrate the required political will and vision that will enable them to write a new chapter of inspiration in European history.
*Sir Graham Watson is an MEP, leader European Liberal Democrat and Reform Party. Praxoula Antoniadou Kyriacou is the leader of the United Democrats Party in Greek Cyprus.