By Alper Ali Riza
THERE HAS never been a generation better qualified than the present nor a time more opportune than now for the people to decide how to put Cyprus back together again.
This generation is better educated; more widely travelled than ever, with broader horizons and with the benefit of 21st Century information technology, and should be asked to participate directly from the outset in order to provide the prior consent that is crucial to uniting Cyprus in a bi-zonal federation of two constituent states.
There are also many good people of the older generation on both sides with the wisdom of hindsight who lived through the terrible events of 1963 and 1974 and experienced at close range the awfulness of war and displacement who have waited far too long and who would wish to have an opportunity to vote about the future of their country in the hope that they will leave behind a peaceful future for their children and grandchildren.
The region around Cyprus has become a dangerous place too and danger concentrates the mind of most people. It is an ill wind that is blowing across the sea, which makes it essential to unleash the common sense of the people to help sort out the Cyprus problem once and for all before it is too late.
The joint statement in Cyprus of 11 February 2014 reserves to the leaders the ultimate decision to agree the settlement first before it is put to the people in simultaneous referenda.
However in the 2004 referendum seventy five per cent of Greek Cypriots rejected the Annan Plan, and although they are not to be taken as having rejected a bi-zonal federation as such, the result of that referendum has to be shown respect if the same result is to be avoided.
The way to show respect is not to carry on regardless, but to hold a referendum and obtain prior consent first, this time round.
The truth is that a bi-zonal federation is still very controversial among Greek Cypriots because it arises from a state of affairs that was not freely chosen but was the result of the tragic events in the summer of 1974, and as such has to be promoted with sensitivity as well as pragmatism.
The Greek Cypriot people need to be persuaded and the persuading needs to be convincing. And the arguments are persuasive and convincing!
Advantages of direct democracy
The use of direct democracy in a referendum at the outset is not intended to replace representative democracy but to enhance it by relieving the political leadership of the responsibility for decision-making that is so profound and of such historical and national importance that no individual or institution in a modern democratic society should be expected to carry such a heavy burden within the constraints of their democratic mandate.
The Rationale behind a bi-zonal federation
The rationale behind the bi-zonal federation is that owing to events on the island from 1963 culminating in the 1974 war, Turkish Cypriots fled to the north of Cyprus en masse in fear for their lives and are now unwilling and in some cases unable to return to their former homes in the south of Cyprus.
As they are now concentrated in the north and not interspersed throughout the island, it is proposed that the previous constitutional arrangements are altered to enable them to govern themselves within a sovereign United Cyprus in political equality under a new federal constitution comprising two constituent states known as ‘North Cyprus’ and ‘South Cyprus’.
Political equality has been much misunderstood by its proponents as well as its detractors. Political equality is what Cyprus has in the councils of the EU. In important decisions, for example, whether to admit a new member, Cyprus, a country of less than a million people, has equal voting power with Germany, a country of more than 80 million people.
In theory, Cyprus could for example veto the admission of say Ukraine even if all the other states wished to admit her.
The example shows that it all depends on the importance of the area of decision making involved but the underlying rationale is that in important areas of governance majoritarian domination is regarded as problematic and undemocratic.
Contrary to the received wisdom among Greek Cypriot politicians in the past, majoritarian domination is capable of being problematic and undemocratic in Cyprus too, hence the need for political equality in important areas of executive and legislative decision-making whereby both entities of the federation would have to agree a measure if its area of operation triggers the political equality provisions of the Constitution.
It is not difficult to imagine which areas would activate the trigger but that must be for the leaders to negotiate, with a further referendum if they fail to agree.
The property aspects
The property aspects of the problem have to be compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights but it is important to note that the right to property is a qualified right that may be curtailed in the public interest if necessary and proportionate to a legitimate aim, provided the loser is properly compensated.
The property aspects shall be dealt with by compensation exchange or reinstatement. Some of this is already taking place privately in accordance with procedures put directed by the European Court of Human Rights.
The land to be returned under ‘South Cyprus’ control is a matter for negotiation for the leaders.
The federal civil service
The federal civil service poses its own set of problems. People who are not civil servants are concerned about the size and cost of a bloated civil service and the integrity, competence, and efficiency of state officials more than their ethnicity.
The aim must ultimately be to have a much smaller state apparatus but of such high quality that in years to come ethnicity would no longer matter.
In the initial stages of any solution however it would be impossible for the putative federal civil service to be up and functioning from nowhere.
To this end it is proposed that in the event of an affirmative response in this referendum there is set up, with the assistance of the EU, a Graduate School of Administration in the mould of the Ecole Nationale d’administration in France, to train and prepare the very high quality civil service that will be from both sides who will take over the levers of federal power once the federation is launched.
Preparing for a solution in practical terms is one of the best confidence-building measures imaginable which is the reason why an affirmative answer in this referendum is so important. To this end it is also proposed that soundings begin with the EU as soon as possible concerning setting up the said Graduate School.
Membership of the EU
Cyprus shall continue to be a member of the European Union. The Turkish Cypriots have already voted indirectly in favour by their affirmative vote in the 2004 referendum on the Annan plan, since the idea at the time was for Cyprus to be reunited so as to join the EU problem free.
The importance of this area of common ground is that it is very conducive to resolving the Cyprus problem because membership of the EU carries with it transfer of sovereignty to the EU which reduces areas of potential disagreement.
Foreign policy and Turkish guarantees
Foreign policy is not normally controversial at home. If it were not for the Cyprus problem, the foreign policy of Cyprus would be like that of Malta, which is perhaps why some politicians in Cyprus indulge the Cyprus problem.
Turkish Cypriots place a lot of importance on Turkish guarantees.
They should consider a fresh look at how efficacious such guarantees are in international law because even if the treaty of guarantee remained in force Turkey would still only be able to intervene lawfully if it could invoke self defence under the UN Charter.
Troop withdrawals and resettlement of Turkish nationals back to Turkey should not in principle pose insuperable problems because as and when a solution is found the natural consequence must be that the Turkish troops would gradually be withdrawn because their presence would be redundant.
So far as the resettlement of Turkish nationals is concerned, EU and European Human Rights law would govern their position as well as what the two sides agree. Objections from Turkey or from Turkish Cypriots about these matters are much exaggerated.
This declaration aims to persuade all the people, but particularly the Greek Cypriots, to vote in favour of a bi-zonal federation as a pragmatic way to reunite the island. It is acknowledged at once that it is put forward for want of anything better but in democracies this is often the best reason. It is measured in tone, close to the facts, sensitive to feelings and true to itself. We recommend it to the people of Cyprus.
Alper Ali Riza is a Queen’s Counsel and one of HM part time judges in England