By Alper Ali Riza
I am not sure if the Turkish side is insisting on a virgin birth – the creation of an entirely new state in Cyprus borne of the union of two constituent states – in the talks to solve the Cyprus problem that are beginning to drag on interminably with no end in sight.
The phrase was coined by someone at the UN, but it is an absurd misnomer. It not only muddles the idea of being born again with a virgin birth but also ignores the mythical truth that Aphrodite, the goddess of erotic love, emerged from the sea in Cyprus. How anyone could come up with a phrase that Aphrodite’s island of all places should be born again virgo intacta beggars belief!
The Turkish Cypriots are justified in their wish for a secure constituent state to succeed the de facto Turkish Republic of North Cyprus as well as for strict political equality in certain key areas of government at the centre, but there is absolutely no need for a so called virgin birth. On the contrary it is essential to preserve the continuity of the Republic of Cyprus internationally so as to ensure the Turkish Cypriot constituent state is absorbed seamlessly into the EU.
The reunification of the two Germanys did not create a new Germany even though unlike the position in Cyprus both were recognised states. The Federal Republic of Germany simply absorbed the German Democratic Republic, formerly East Germany, as additional lander, and East Germany quietly ceased to exist as a legal entity. Importantly, however, this method of reunification facilitated East Germany’s entry into the EU imperceptibly without having to qualify for membership in her own right.
Scotland’s continued membership of the EU became an issue in the referendum debates in 2014. Apparently the European Commission expressed the opinion to Scotland’s first minister that under EU law Scotland would have to reapply for membership in her own right if the people voted for independence, even though Scotland was presently part of the EU under the UK umbrella. This caused a lot of concern at the time because Scotland’s re-entry into the EU could not be guaranteed.
So far as Cyprus is concerned, the Republic of Cyprus joined the EU as one sovereign territory which included northern Cyprus and the Turkish Cypriots became EU citizens by virtue of their citizenship of the Republic of Cyprus. However by Protocol 10 of the 2004 Treaty of Accession of Cyprus the application of the EU legal order was suspended in northern Cyprus pending a settlement.
The suspension does not affect the status of Turkish Cypriots as EU citizens. What is envisaged once there is a settlement is that the suspension of the EU legal order will be lifted and northern Cyprus will merge fully into the EU, presumably subject to the usual transitional adjustments to converge northern Cyprus’ political, economic, and social infrastructure to accord with EU standards.
Those in the Turkish Cypriot establishment who support virgin birth should therefore be careful what they wish for lest they disturb the EU citizenship of the Turkish Cypriots and the smooth absorption of northern Cyprus into the EU in the event of a comprehensive settlement.
Being EU citizens is very precious to Turkish Cypriots, and they are not going to vote for any solution that puts their citizenship of the EU at risk. It has provided them with freedom of movement in the EU – to live work and study in the UK in particular – and enabled the free flow of people and ideas between northern Cyprus and the UK to mutual advantage which they would not risk losing for the sake of the political idea of a virgin birth that is of no discernible use to anyone.
My own view is that the dissolution of the Republic of Cyprus is not possible because it would require treaty change and not desirable because it is the vehicle by which northern Cyprus will become fully integrated into the EU legal order without having to apply to join the EU afresh.
In any case in international law the Republic of Cyprus has a free-standing existence independent of the exclusively Greek Cypriot administrations that have run its government since 1963. And it has a special place in the hearts of some Turkish Cypriots as it came into being in 1960 more on account of Turkish Cypriot resistance to union with Greece than any desire of the Greek Cypriots to create a state of their own.
This is not to say that the Republic of Cyprus cannot vary its name. “What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet” is how Juliet Capulet put it in Romeo and Juliet – in a wholly different context of course! The approach to Cyprus’ name should be based on the principle that any change should be the minimum required to reflect the new state of affairs. Hence my preference for Federal Republic of Cyprus.
Unfortunately, there are murmurings that the continuity of the state of Cyprus after a federal solution is problematic and that the new state of affairs will be a completely new entity in international law and that the Republic of Cyprus will be lost on the altar of federalism. These rumours are false and need to be scotched at once. The involuntary dissolution of a state cannot occur by a side-wind. The idea that the Republic of Cyprus will be dissolved simply because of an internal change from a unitary to a federal state has no precedent and no foundation in international law.
Nevertheless rejectionists on the Greek side have raised this as a ground for opposing a federation comprising two constituent states, and I therefore tried to find the source of their concern – such as it is – to see if there is anything in it. It seems the rejectionists have latched onto the difference between the continuity of a state and state succession. It is the sort of thing that exercises first year students of public international law because it may happen that independent states wishing to unite under a federal umbrella may agree for their union to form a new state in international law.
But this does not arise in the case of Cyprus because the principles of state succession are not engaged as the Republic of Cyprus retained sovereignty over the whole island. This is now moot as both sides agree that the membership of the EU acquired by the Republic of Cyprus shall continue. Under EU law – which reflects international law – sovereignty over the whole of the territory of Cyprus belongs by treaty law to the Republic of Cyprus.
What is to be done? The Cypriot leaders must become passionate believers in the federal way as the best way in every way – internally in the shape of the constituent states and externally in the shape of the EU.
As Benjamin Franklin put it “the strength and wealth of the parts is the strength and wealth of the whole.”
Alper Ali Riza is Queen’s Counsel and a part time judge in the UK