TEN YEARS ago today, 76 per cent of Greek Cypriots, heeded the call of their president and voted against the Annan plan that would have re-united the country, ensured the return of many villages and towns to the Greek Cypriot community and paved the way for the withdrawal of Turkish troops. This was the only plan for a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem ever drafted, but it did not meet the expectations of the overwhelming majority of Greek Cypriots and their leadership who waged a frenzied campaign against its acceptance.
Many reasons have been put forward for the opposition to the plan some of which were: Turkey could not be trusted to implement the provisions of the plan such as the withdrawal of troops and return of territory, scheduled to take place in stages; the thriving economy and high living standards of Greek Cypriots would have been put at risk; maintaining the status quo ensured that property prices would not fall; human rights were not respected by the agreement; the Cyprus Republic would cease to exist and give rise to another state entity; disputes between the two sides would be resolved by foreign judges.
Apart from scaring people about the consequences of a settlement, opponents of the plan also offered false hopes related to EU membership. Cyprus was to join the EU a week after the referendum and as a full member-state would have been able to negotiate a much better deal, referred to at the time as a ‘European solution.’ No such solution ever materialised while the Cyprus government was accused of cheating the EU by Union officials. Eventually, refugees were even prevented from filing recourse against Turkey to the European Court of Human Rights, directed instead to the Immovable Property Commission in the north. Cyprus blocked the opening of chapters in Turkey’s accession negotiations, but this does not appear to have had any positive consequence for the Greek Cypriots.
In the last ten years, the north has changed dramatically, businessmen from Turkey making big investments, the number of mainland Turks settling there in excess of 100,000, tourist arrivals on an upward curve and land development rampant. It is against this background that the two sides have been grudgingly negotiating for a settlement in the last couple of months. There is a very big gulf separating the two sides, we constantly hear members of the Anastasiades government saying, as if they were surprised by this. Nobody is considering the possibility that 2004 was not just a missed opportunity, but also the last opportunity for re-unification.