Cyprus Mail
Cyprus Cyprus Talks

A conversation with a CyProb veteran

Lord David Hannay, the UK's former special representative

By Gus Constantinou

A FULL DECADE has passed since the failed referendum of the 2004 Annan Plan. The legacy of that plans looms large as the Greek and Turkish Cypriots and Espen Barth Eide, the newly appointed UN Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, prepare to arrive yet again at a roadmap to solve the Cyprus problem.

Lord David Hannay of Chiswick, the UK’s Special Representative for Cyprus (1996-2003), played a pivotal role in drafting the plan. Although I was initially invited to his private residence to discuss matters relating to his time as the UK’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, from 1990-1995, it was inevitable that discussion of his time in Cyprus would occur. Lord Hannay, whose Cyprus: The Search for a Solution is his contribution to the vast literature on the intractable problem, was refreshingly forthcoming as he recounted his personal experiences of his time dealing with the Cyprus issue.

“I thought that what happened in 2003-2004 was sad because I spent seven years helping the UN to put together the Annan Plan. I think if [Rauf] Denktash had not frustrated the negotiations for so long we would have probably got there,” said Lord Hannay. “I think if a UN deal had been reached a year or two earlier, when the [EU] accession negotiations were still in play, the Greek Cypriots would have accepted, because the risks to them of not doing so would have been too great. But by the time the question was posed, there were absolutely zero risks for the Greek Cypriots.”

The delay, he said, was not down to the Greek Cypriots, but Denktash.

“It was Denktash who wasted year after year refusing to negotiate effectively. So, I’m sad about that. I still believe that that if there is ever a settlement, and I think there probably will be at some stage, it will be for a bizonal bicommunal federation. There is no other basis for a settlement; and it will contain many of the provisions in the Annan Plan, though not all of them. Some will be changed.”

He described the decade since the referendum as lost years during which little had been achieved.

“Ten years have been lost. That’s not probably all that terrible but it’s not good. No territory has been re-acquired by the Greek Cypriots. No people have gone back to their property or been compensated for it. No greater security exists on the island. So it’s not a brilliant success, frankly.”

So can the process move ahead?

“The Greek Cypriot economy is not riding high. And then the Turks are not riding as high either as they were at that time, although [President Tayyip] Erdogan is the master of all he surveys in internal Turkish politics. There is, I think, therefore, an opportunity now that Erdogan has won his election, to come back to the negotiating table and to try to do a deal on something not a million miles away from the Annan Plan.”

On the difficult issue of territory and properties, Lord Hannay believes any solution would have to be much the same as those contained in the Annan Plan.

“There aren’t an infinite number of variants that you can apply. I think similarly … the handling of the institutions of a bicommunal, bizonal, federal Cyprus is fairly obvious in the sense that you cannot have a strong central government. You have to have two devolved states which have a lot of the powers for things like education and health and so on.”

On the contentious issue of Turkish troops in Cyprus, Lord Hannay said there were a number of solutions, though none were particularly easy. One suggestion was to link the issue to Turkey’s EU accession by agreeing that on the day Turkey joined the EU, all Turkish troops should be removed.

Although Lord Hannay believes many aspects of the Annan Plan would have to form the basis of any future solution, he described the plan’s final version – the one on which the referendum was held – as “unwisely generous” to the Turks.

“It played into the hands of nationalist Greek Cypriots who were rejectionists from the start.”

Nowhere was this more the case than with Tassos Papadopoulos, who was by then the president.

“I mean, he was just a clone of Denktash’s really, on the other side. He was never going to agree to anything,” he said.

His view of President Nicos Anastasiades is quite different.

“Anastasiades is a man who showed in 2004 that, despite the hopeless position he was in, he was prepared to stand by his principles and back the plan. Now, that doesn’t mean that he should now revert to exactly the same plan. He won’t do that but it does mean to say that we needn’t ask ourselves ‘does Nicos Anastasiades really want a settlement?’ Yes, sure he does.”

The role of hydrocarbons is an element in the Cyprus issue which post-dates Lord Hannay’s involvement, but his view is that their discovery should help in finding a Cyprus solution and that again, the direction points to Turkey.

“It is quite clear that a settlement which enables those resources to be developed in a cooperative way and enables the gas to be piped out through Turkey is going to be enormously more profitable to all Cypriots than the alternative. I don’t buy the Turkish line that they can stop this happening. We’ve heard all that before over Cyprus joining the EU. It’s all nonsense. They can’t stop it happening.”

With the recent appointment of a new UN Special Representative on Cyprus, Lord Hannay has the following advice for the new appointee.

“Don’t try and redesign the wheel, just pick up the pieces that are there. There’s been a huge amount of work done in recent years. I think [Alexander] Downer did well, assembling the pieces after the collapse of the Annan Plan. Now I think he should get on with it.”

The discussion on Eide’s appointment leads to a quintessentially Denktash anecdote and a more sobering observation.

“Denktash actually managed to veto a Norwegian in his time on the grounds that he was a European and I said to him at the time ‘But they’re not in the European Union, you know, Rauf. Why do you object to a Norwegian?’ ‘Oh well, they’re all the same,’ he said. Which was actually silly because he was a very good man who went on to become Under-Secretary General at the UN. But he vetoed him.

“I mean, one of the things that drove me to despair over Cyprus was that the two – the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots – were so resistant to a whole range of nationalities and that the main requirement for any Special Representative should be that he knew absolutely nothing about Cyprus. So you had to have a South Korean, or an Ecuadorian, etc! I’m glad they’ve got a new Special Representative.”


Gus Constantinou is a researcher based in Toronto and London. A postgraduate of the Department of War Studies at King’s College, London, he tweets through @gus_c13.

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