PN Member Joost Lagendijk Reflects on Latest ICG Report on Cyprus

Joost Lagendijk
March 15, 2014

Writing for the Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman, PN Member Joost Lagendijk reflects on the latest report from the International Crisis Group on divided Cyprus. The report argues that the parties should informally consider the option of mutually agreed independence for the Turkish Cypriots within the EU.

Last month, a new round of talks on ending the division of Cyprus started. It is the sixth attempt under UN sponsorship since 1977 to find a settlement on the basis of the well-known formula of a bizonal, bicommunal federation.

You don't need to be a born skeptic or a stubborn nationalist to think that the chances of success, after so many failures to reach a compromise, are small and that, maybe, the time has come to look for an alternative resolution.

Between 2006 and 2011, the International Crisis Group (ICG) published seven reports in support of the federal model and pointed out, time and again, the costs of failing to reach a deal between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. You can't blame the renowned think tank for not trying to be helpful. That is why the latest, thought provoking ICG contribution to the debate, presented at the end of last week, should be taken seriously.

The strong point of the report, titled “Divided Cyprus: Coming to Terms on an Imperfect Reality,” is that it gives an overview of the main obstacles to the desired perfect solution. By far the most important ones are the fact that after 40 years of separation the two communities have simply grown apart on all levels and the crippling lack of trust on both sides that the federal deal on offer can ever actually be agreed or implemented. Everyone familiar with the Cyprus problem knows that federal reunification as envisaged has always been a second option for both communities: Greek Cypriots strongly support a unitary state while most Turkish Cypriots would prefer a two-state solution. Based on strong arguments, the ICG paper suggests that, unfortunately, there is no reason to believe that gap will be bridged any time soon. A growing number of analysts and academics from both sides have therefore come to the conclusion that repeating the same process is not going to produce anything new. As Ertugrul Günay, former Turkish tourism and culture minister quoted by the ICG, formulates it pointedly: “The whole current set-up is based on not solving the problem … Everybody is waiting for a new idea. Someone's just got to shake them out of their cycle.”

The ICG has clearly taken Günay's call to heart and has come up with an alternative solution: An independent Turkish Cypriot state within the EU. According to the report, there are signs of a rethink on all sides that might make this option a viable one. Greek Cypriot nationalists have come to realize it might be better to keep the Republic of Cyprus as it is -- a Greek Cypriot-controlled entity. Turkish Cypriots are aware of the fact a two-state settlement within the EU would give them recognition and support to survive on their own; it would prevent them from being bogged down in a status quo in which they are increasingly dependent on Turkey. Ankara's motives include the boost a settlement would give to its own EU accession process and international reputation. In UN and EU circles there is increased diplomatic skepticism about the current framework of negotiations and, when asked by both sides on the island, there might be a willingness to accept a peaceful separation (as in the case of the Czech Republic and Slovakia) and to guarantee and oversee an agreed two state arrangement.

The ICG is not naïve and realizes very well all the potential impediments. At the same time, the report lists all the good reasons why this option should at least be explored as a fallback position in case the current, classic reunification attempts fail again: “Policy based on nostalgia and a never-ending process of UN-mediated talks is a backwards-looking displacement activity. It allows both sides to avoid getting down to real issues about how the island can operate more efficiently, return to prosperity and, arguably, achieve real peace. … An independent Turkish Cypriot EU member alongside the Greek Cypriot Republic of Cyprus would give both much of what they really want.”

The ICG deserves credit for opening up an avenue that, eventually, might prove to be the only realistic way out.


Originally published on Today'

Photo by aggeboe


PN Member Joost Lagendijk has been Member of the European Parliament from 1999 to 2009. He is now living and working in Turkey as a columnist for the Turkish dailies Zaman and Today's Zaman.

Read stories from: