Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

The 10 critical issues for resolving the Cyprus problem

The Ledra St checkpoint

Christos Panayiotides identifies and analyses, in simple and easy to understand terms, the 10 critical issues, which the negotiators need to focus on in order to strike the highly desired settlement agreement

  1. Security

The issue of personal security and, in general, the securing of conditions of stability and peace, is the most critical issue, which preoccupies the minds of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots.  Their concern is understandable and justified.  This should be given the utmost care.

It is a fact that there are brainless idiots on both sides, numerically few but capable of causing incidents that could lead to out of control situations.  Included in these extremist groups are mentally disturbed people, people acting under the influence of hallucinogenic substances and, in general, marginalised people, who are actively seeking easy ways of distinguishing themselves.  The management and control of these problematic groups entails methodical planning but it also requires the active involvement of the responsible members of society that can raise protective walls against such delinquent behaviour.

Cyprus has at its disposal the necessary tools to deal effectively with these deadly risks, both proactively and on a repressively, provided that these tools are made available on a timely basis and are used wisely.  The really big weapon which Cyprus has today (lacking in 1960) is membership of the European Union, which can support and secure the desired security in many different ways.  This facility must be utilised to the maximum extent, in order to ensure that Cyprus and all Cypriots are protected against all external and internal threats.  Just think how easy it would be to integrate UNFICYP (or something similar) into the Federal Police of Cyprus, at least for a transitional period of a few years.

  1. Political Equality:

Many discussions are held on the issue of “political equality” but the matter was, in fact, settled (with the consent of the Greek Cypriot side) in 1990/91 and, since then, it is being reconfirmed in all the resolutions of the Security Council (which the Greek Cypriot side has supported and accepted).  Specifically, in Paragraph 11 of Appendix I of the Report of the Secretary General, dated 8 March 1990 (5/21183) the following reference is made:  “While political equality does not mean equal numerical participation in all federal government branches and administration, it should be reflected, inter alia, in various ways: in the requirement that the federal constitution of the State of Cyprus be approved or amended with the concurrence of both communities; in the effective participation of both communities in all organs and decisions of the federal Government; in safeguards to ensure that the federal Government will not be empowered to adopt any measures against the interests of one community; and in the equality and identical powers and functions of the two federated States”.  As former negotiator Alekos Markides said, whether we like it or not, the effective participation of both communities in the federal state has, for many years, been ‘cast in concrete’ in the relevant resolutions of the Security Council.

At the level of the Council of Ministers, the existing “agreement” is based on the need to secure at least one “positive vote” out of the 4 “Turkish Cypriot votes”.  It follows that a decision would need to be supported by 5 Greek Cypriots and 1 Turkish Cypriot or 2 Greek Cypriots and 4 Turkish Cypriots or a combination somewhere in between.

  1. The Rotating Presidency:

The “rotating presidency” is an extension of the issue of “political equality”.  The problem here stems from the dysfunction that may be caused by alternating presidents, who may have diametrically opposed political views on critical issues, such as that of the economy.

One way of confronting this problem is by having a common election programme (manifesto) and, by extension, a common or a “connected” election platform.  However, such an approach would not be acceptable to the Turkish Cypriot community because it could lead to the election of Turkish Cypriot “puppet” candidates, who would be under the control of the more numerous Greek Cypriot community.

In the effort to address this problem, Demetris Christofias and Mehmet Ali Talat came up with the idea of electing the President and the Vice-President on the basis of a “cross-weighted vote”, that is in a manner that would secure that the elective power of each community would be taken into consideration in determining the outcome of the election process.

On the basis of this proposal, all the citizens of Cyprus who are entitled to vote would elect a Greek Cypriot and a Turkish Cypriot president for a term of 4 and 2 years, respectively.  However, while the Greek Cypriot president would be elected by the entire body of the voters (Greek and Turkish Cypriots), the Turkish Cypriot president would be elected by the Turkish Cypriot and the Greek Cypriot voters, after adjusting the elective “power” of the Greek Cypriots in such a way so as to render it equal to that of the Turkish Cypriots.

This arrangement would become better understood by an example:  Let’s assume that the elective power of the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots is 80% and 20%, respectively, of the entire body of voters.  The Greek Cypriot who will be elected will be the candidate who secures the largest number of votes throughout the country.  The Turkish Cypriot president will be the candidate who will secure the largest number of votes by adding the Turkish Cypriot votes to 20% of the Greek Cypriot votes that the specific candidate managed to secure.

Under this arrangement the risk of electing two presidents with substantially different political views persists.  This risk may be mitigated by each candidate naming, in advance, his/her counterpart from the other community with whom there are good prospects of a productive cooperation, because of a commonality of views on the policies which should be followed, probably as a result of standing on the same pan-European political platform.  These preferences of the individual candidates, although not binding on the voters, would – indirectly but clearly – shift the responsibility for the risk of causing cooperation problems on the voters themselves, when they exercise their right to vote.

  1. Independence:

The economic and political independence of the Turkish Cypriots from Turkey is a fundamental precondition for the survival and the smooth functioning of federal Cyprus.  It is evident to the most uninitiated person that the economic and political dependence of the Turkish Cypriots on Turkey and the resulting temptation on the part of Turkey to impose its choices on Cyprus will lead to friction and conflicts, at the expense of Cyprus as well as at the expense of the European Union.

The economic and political weaning of Cyprus from Turkey does not entail a clash.  Far from it.  With good faith on both sides, big Turkey and small Cyprus could develop between them an exemplary form of cooperation in the region of the Eastern Mediterranean, by capitalising on the cultural and the educational links, which already exist between the two countries.

A necessary condition for attaining the economic and political independence of the Turkish Cypriots from Turkey is the raising of the social and the economic status of all the component elements of Cypriot society to the same level.  Both the Federal Government and the European Union must set this goal amongst their primary objectives.

  1. The Undersea Wealth of Cyprus:

It has been stated that the commercial exploitation of the undersea wealth of Cyprus could prove to be a blessing or a curse.  Regrettably, the initiatives taken by the Government of Cyprus tend to turn this wealth into a curse, for two basic reasons:  First, Cyprus has sought to deprive Turkey from any role in the management of the natural gas in the Eastern Mediterranean and to present Turkey with a fait accompli by interpreting the applicable international law of the sea in a manner, which is subject to challenge and, secondly, by refusing any involvement of the Turkish Cypriots in the decision-making for the economic exploitation of the Cypriot EEZ.


It was inevitable this arrogant behaviour by the Cyprus government, in respect of the undersea wealth would provoke a negative reaction on the part of Turkey and have an adverse impact on the prospects of resolving the Cyprus problem.  The systematic overestimating (on the part of the Cyprus government) of the competence of the diplomatic services of Cyprus and the underestimating of the skills of the diplomatic services of Turkey has led to the stagnation of the process of reuniting Cyprus, despite the efforts exerted and the sacrifices sustained in a period of more than half a century.

The only bright exception to this disastrous course was the accession of Cyprus to the European Union, which was achieved primarily as a result of the efforts of the Greek Government (Simitis-Kranidiotis) in cooperation with Clerides and Vassiliou.  Unfortunately, this achievement led to Gϋnter Verheugen, the then Enlargement Commissioner, stating in the European Parliament that he has been “cheated” by Greek Cypriots because of the rejection of the Annan Plan (the approval of which had been informally committed to as a precondition for Cyprus’ accession to the European Union).

The problem of the commercial exploitation of the under the sea energy deposits of Cyprus can and should be resolved – in parallel with the resolution of the Cyprus problem – by referring the issue of the delineation of the Cypriot and the Turkish Exclusive Economic Zones to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the immediate involvement of the Turkish Cypriots in the management of this wealth.  The technical difficulties which are often advanced as an obstacle to the achievement of progress in this area can easily be overcome with a bit of goodwill on the part of those involved in this dispute.

  1. “Tight” v “Loose” Federation:

Despite my repeated calls on President Anastasiades to clarify the meaning of a “loose” or a “decentralized” federation, which he favours, I have never received a clear-cut response.  It is true that Alekos Markides, whose judgement I generally respect, also appears to be in favour of a decentralised federation.  I hope that he will allow me to disagree with him on this particular issue.  Markides argues that we should not overburden the Federal Government with a long list of competences because the possible failure to discharge these functions will inevitably have an adverse impact on the day-to-day running of Cyprus.  The Federal Government should merely have as many competences as are necessary for its unity.  The thinking behind this position is that the more the competences assigned to the Federal Government, the greater the risk of friction and conflicts.

The logic of “I do not care what happens in the north as long as I can do whatever I like in the south” does not find me in agreement.  This is the logic supporting the partition of Cyprus, which I reject.  As I have already explained, I consider the weaning of the Turkish Cypriots from Turkey, so that the Turkish Cypriots can judge and decide by reference to their own interests rather than those of Turkey, to be a matter of the utmost importance.  Of course, this is a real risk, particularly in the first stage of the life of federated Cyprus.  It is exactly at this stage that it is of far greater importance for the Greek Cypriot side to be in a position to prevent Turkey from imposing views and action steps on the Turkish Cypriots, which would be detrimental to the whole of Cyprus, irrespective of whether, on first examination, they may appear to be relevant only to northern Cyprus.

I, therefore, consider the formulation of rules (and I am not referring to trivial matters, such as the working hours of barbers and hairdressers) should be a task assigned to the Federal Government, in contrast to the application of the rules, which should be delegated to the federated constituent states, with the possibility of appealing to the federal court, in case of an improper application of the rules.  Given that an ever-increasing volume of rules is formulated at the level of the European Union, the formulation of the rules at the level of the Federal Government should not be a problem, provided that a certain minimum level of goodwill exists.  At the end of the day, if one of the federated states is so against a proposed regulatory arrangement that the necessary one positive vote cannot be secured, let no decision be taken or let us introduce an arbitration process.

The “loose” federation is a huge trap into which we could all (Greek and Turkish Cypriots) fall.  The selective and superficial reference to the operating rules of other federations is also a trap.  We need to be very careful here.

  1. The Risk of Deadlocks:

Many Greek Cypriots are frightened by what happened in 1963, when the refusal of the Turkish Cypriot members of parliament to enact the State Budget, resulted in a visible risk of the entire State malfunctioning.  The Turkish Cypriots hasten to stress that their refusal to approve the State Budget was in the context of their efforts to convince the Greek Cypriots to respect the constitutional provisions concerning the setting-up of 5 separate Turkish Cypriot municipalities, for a transitional period of at least 4 years.

Obviously, we cannot rule out the possibility of deadlock situations arising but one hopes that the bad experiences of those days and the irresponsible behaviour of the then leaders of Cyprus, which have accumulated so much pain and suffering on Greek Cypriots as well as on Turkish Cypriots, are a thing of the past.  The huge difference between now and the prevailing conditions in the sixties stems from the extensive regulatory role of the European Union, from the supervisory role of the EU on most activities (such as the European Central Bank), to the right to appeal before the European Courts. There is also power to set up ad hoc arbitration mechanisms, at least for a transitional period of time.

  1. Education:

Educating the Cyprus youth is a particularly sensitive matter for both communities because, on the one hand, it is a basic tool that will secure the cultural cohesion of the two communities (a highly desirable goal) and, on the other hand, it could serve as a vehicle for cultivating a nationalistic and religious spirit of intolerance and confrontation (an undesirable goal).

The right balance between conflicting objectives is difficult but not impossible to attain.  The operation of the two educational systems must be in the hands of the respective communities with the necessary harmonisation being achieved at the federal level through a coordinating body staffed by enlightened educationalists.  The composition of this coordination body should not exclude the participation of enlightened members of the clergy of both communities.

It should be understood that the concept of “education” is not confined to schooling but it extends to cover the ongoing, lifelong education and, in particular, the proper briefing and the educational advancement of all the citizens of Cyprus, by utilising the services of state vehicles for accomplishing this difficult task.

In the field of education we should also fully utilise the extensive experience of the European Union in mitigating conflicts and in the healing of the wounds inflicted by two world wars.  It is, indeed, these wounds that made reconciliation an imperative task and, in turn, they led to the setting up of the European Union.

  1. The Compensation of War Losses:

The compensation of the losses suffered is the most difficult issue of the Cyprus problem because it touches (either in a favourable or in an unfavourable manner) the economic interests of all Cypriots.  Unfortunately, with the passage of time, the “users” of property have acquired rights, as held by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).  Obviously, this dimension of the problem was incorrectly assessed by the proponents of a “long-term struggle”.  This is a problem that is certain to grow with the passage of time.  The property problem has many dimensions, which cannot be analysed in a short note such as this one.  Nevertheless, one could distinguish the following sub-sections of the problem:

Immovable property

  • Properties that have been abandoned and remain unoccupied.
  • Properties that have been abandoned but have been occupied and are being used by third parties.
  • Properties that have been abandoned by their original owners but have been occupied and developed by third parties (for example land on which buildings have been erected or pre-existing buildings have been refurbished and substantially improved).
  • State property which has been allocated to private users.

According to an estimate, the Greek Cypriot properties in the occupied areas total 2,000 square kilometres of which 500 square kilometres are expected to be returned under Greek Cypriot administration.  The Turkish Cypriot properties in the unoccupied areas total 500 square kilometres.  Based on this very rough estimate, immovable properties in the occupied areas, totalling 1,000 square kilometres, must be returned to their lawful owners (if that is their wish) or they must be compensated.

Movable Property

The pieces of movable property lost (such as machinery and equipment, goods, raw materials, vehicles, furniture and fittings, valuables, cash etc.) give rise to the added problem of having to prove the ownership and their value, at the stage when they became inaccessible.

Confronting the property problem in an absolutely fair and equitable manner is probably unfeasible.  However, that Cypriots have carried the burdens of the war and of the occupation in a grossly unfair and inequitable manner is a fact that nobody can dispute.  Rectifying this injustice must be part of the solution of the Cyprus problem.  However, irrespective of the solution of the problem, it is illogical to prolong this injustice ad infinitum on the pretext that it is practically unfeasible to arrive at a perfectly fair arrangement for all.  At the same time, those who have suffered substantial losses must show understanding and a willingness to compromise and accept arrangements that would settle this huge pending issue, even if what is proposed to them does not cover the full extent of the loss suffered.  In this effort, the Orthodox Church of Cyprus and EFKAV (Foundation for the Administration of Muslim Religious Properties) must assist in the resolution of the problem by allotting a large part of the property they own for this purpose.


  1. Securing a Safe Transition: As rightly pointed out by Ioannis Kasoulides, the long-serving, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, a crucial issue is the securing of a safe transition to the transformed federal structure of Cyprus, on the basis of the agreement that will be reached.  The history of Cyprus, in the first phase of the life of the Republic, has generated a lot of insecurity.  The Turkish Cypriots went through the unpleasant experience of seeing themselves being ostracised from the government bodies that were stipulated in the Zurich Constitution.  The Greek Cypriots lived the experience of the misuse of the veto right given to the Turkish Cypriots that caused a state of paralysis, as a consequence of refusing to approve the state budget, threatening to lead to a situation that would have a direct negative impact on the daily lives of citizens (pensions, salaries, hospitals, schools).

In the latest negotiations at Crans-Montana, substantial ground was covered in relation to this issue and the Secretary General of the United Nations tabled a document, which, in effect, was an “Implementation Agreement”.  When would be the right time to publicly release this proposed agreement I am not in a position to say.  However, publicising such a document will, no doubt, help in creating the necessary positive attitude towards the entire agreement and, by extension, it will enhance the prospects of such an agreement being approved by both communities.  The securing of the safe application of the Zurich-London Agreements and of the Annan Plan was undoubtedly deficient and this deficiency was, indeed, one of the principal reasons that led to the negative developments that ensued.

Related posts

The men in my life

CM Guest Columnist

Our View: EU Commission speaking for us all in expressing concern

CM: Our View

Our View: Cyprus-Russia compromise tax deal a better option than seeing it scrapped

CM: Our View

Lebanon meltdown

Gwynne Dyer

Trump’s election tactic, an October surprise

Gwynne Dyer

Is there a chance of striking a deal with Turkey?

Christos Panayiotides