By Yiorgos Kakouris
There is an important element that the public, politicians and commentators don’t seem to address when talking about the possible alternatives to reunification. And that is the fact that partition, confederation or any other sort of arrangement would require a completely new, tedious and soul-crushing process of renegotiation of everything achieved so far.
This process will be comparable only, perhaps, to the ordeal that is the Brexit negotiations, where every aspect of the Britain-EU relationship has to be put through a wringer only to achieve a sub-optimal solution that neither side really wants.
However the one group of people that will benefit from this process is the political class in both sides. Out of the six chapters constituting the Cyprus Problem negotiations (power sharing, economy, EU, property, territory and security), all will have to be renegotiated except, of course, for power sharing.
In this scenario, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot politicians, business and community leaders will be able to perpetuate their hold on power without having to give anything up, while using the never ending peace process as an excuse to present themselves as indispensible, while taking care to use nationalism and fear of the other to their advantage. The prospects of healthy change and development for the two communities will be seriously diminished.
Economy: Forget about the prospect of attracting new development and investments as well as developing a strong federal economy in cooperation with all countries in the region. The sides will have to fully negotiate their bilateral trade relations and the status of the Green Line, while the trade relations of the north with the EU will have to be considered in a completely new light.
European Union: Brussels and the member states will not easily accept the creation of a second Cypriot state, if it accepts it all, due mainly to the secessionist tendencies in many of them. Also, a Turkish Cypriot independent state that has not been harmonised with the EU will most probably be a satellite state for Turkey, an economic burden and will mostly spell trouble for Europe.
Property: The discussion on how to recompense owners of properties left on the other side of the island and the mechanism that was painstakingly being fleshed out under the reunification scenario will have to be radically reconsidered. The option of ownership of property under the administration of the other community will have to be renegotiated. The chance for a return of property for both sides will be massively reduced and there will probably be a new round of litigations and court cases.
Territory: In an alternative solution scenario, the border between the two communities is no longer an administrative line but a hard border. Both the delineation of this border as well as the way in which it will manifest itself on the ground (will it be fences, checkpoints, or a brand-new wall spanning the whole island?) will be the subject of a whole new negotiation.
Security: Even in the best-case scenario, the sides will have to renegotiate the presence of foreign troops and any sort of demilitarisation will be out of the question. However none of the sides will have much of an incentive to do so and the situation might start moving towards further militarisation.
No incentive for progress
Lately, Greek Cypriot rejectionists or well-meaning pragmatists on the one side, and Turkish Cypriot secessionists or disappointed federalists on the other bring up possible alternatives to a federal solution. There is talk of two states, a confederation, or even of some weird co-dependence arrangement of the north with Turkey. These options appear in their minds and their arguments fully formed, like a ready-to-use utopia.
No one mentions the processes by which these options will be pursued and these futures built. No one presents an overarching strategy regarding how to navigate the relations between the communities and the international situation during preparation and implementation of any alternative. Because in fact, all of these solutions are seen by political elites as shortcuts to achieve tactical aims without putting in the hard work.
In short, the voters that political elites woo with their talk of a solution under different parameters have absolutely nothing to gain from these alternatives to a federal solution. The only ones who stand to gain are the Greek Cypriot political elite that would no longer have to negotiate the spoils of running an internationally recognizsd service economy complete with its opportunities for money laundering and corruption, and the Turkish Cypriot political elite that wouldn’t need to rationalise a dysfunctional unrecognised client state that is now offering lucrative opportunities for collaboration with Turkey’s rising plutocracy.
Each on their own way
The Greek Cypriot political elite wants to take advantage of the natural gas in the Cypriot EEZ without having to cooperate with the Turkish Cypriots. It does not even want to have to put in the hard work of explaining to its population that any future federal state will be jointly run. In this way, they throw away the opportunity to gain concessions in security or guarantees or at least to maintain the moral high ground and demand concessions from Turkey. This happens not necessarily because Greek Cypriot politicians don’t believe in political equality, but because they don’t believe in their ability to lead the population into a different future.
The Turkish Cypriot elite, whether due to the traumas of the 1960s or due to the traumas of 2004 and 2017, wants an easy way out of isolation that will allow the community to become a part of the international community and to start functioning as a normal polity. But a lot don’t want to do this through a more rational reconfiguration of the economy into a sustainable and balanced model that doesn’t require Turkey’s contribution. The same elite is afraid of trying to convince their people that true guarantees from their safety will only come from Europe, not Turkey.
The result is that some in the south flirt with the idea of even splitting apart the EEZ, while some in the north flirt with the idea of becoming Turkey’s Monaco or Gibraltar, or even developing a similar relation to the one that Switzerland has with the EU. But Greek Cypriot politicians forget that benefiting from natural gas won’t be easy in these circumstances, while Turkish Cypriot politicians forget that they will lose the moral high ground and will not be easily able to defend their own interests while in Erdogan’s orbit.
The politicians that currently handle the period that has started since the end of the Cyprus Problem will not move beyond these tactical considerations as long as the silent moderate majority on both sides does not see where its true interests lies.
Yiorgos Kakouris is a journalist for Politis newspaper