Views range from full support to resigned acceptance to outright rejection
A federation is a form of a state structure and of state governance, which – at the local level – provides for a degree of autonomy. The degree of local autonomy varies from case to case and, as a consequence, no two federations are identical. Nevertheless, the common features shared by all federations, are the following: There is only one ultimate state authority (executive, legislative and judicial); the economy of the entire federation is integrated; and, the ideals governing the federation are shared by all the constituent states. A federation has a single sovereignty; a single nationality and a single international personality.
The citizens of a member state of the European Union automatically acquire EU citizenship. The citizenship of the EU grants equal rights (and obligations) to all the citizens of the member state, which has the structure of a federation, as is the case with Austria, Belgium and Germany and – hopefully soon – Cyprus. In the case of Cyprus (which is also the situation with all the other member states of the EU) most of the legislation regulating the operation of the state (some estimate the extent to be 70-80 per cent) emanates from EU institutions and as a consequence the possibility of departing from these rules at the local level does not exist.
It is an undisputed fact that the European Union represents the ideal mechanism for resolving possible conflicts, particularly during the first phase of the functioning of Cyprus’ federal structure, until the time that a climate of trust and cooperation becomes prevalent. An equally important parameter is that the ultimate judge of the proper and fair application of the laws of each member state is the European Court of Justice (ECJ). This possibility, which did not exist prior to 2004, should be fully utilised.
A recent study from the universities of Cyprus and Kent, directed by professors Charis Psaltis and Neophytos Loizides, concluded that the only state structure that would be acceptable to the Greek Cypriot community (to the extent of 76.2 per cent) and the Turkish Cypriot community (71.2 per cent) is the federal structure, which is supported by the international community and in particular by the UN and the EU (a more comprehensive report on the study can be found at: https://ucy.ac.cy/dir/documents/dir/cpsaltis/Options_for_Solution_to_the_Cyprus_issue_2020_ENG.pdf).
Why do 71.5 per cent of Greek Cypriots favour the unitary state?
Many Greek Cypriots consider the fact that they are being deprived of the right to govern themselves, even though they represent 80 per cent of the total population of Cyprus, as a form of a gross injustice at their expense. This explains why most Greek Cypriots – when confronted with an abstract and theoretical question on their choice of state structure – come out in favour of the “unitary state”. However, for reasons which are beyond the scope of this article, this option is not available today and the possible insistence of the Greek Cypriots on such an arrangement is certain to lead to the partition of the island into two separate states. This is precisely the thinking which has led 75+ per cent of Greek Cypriots to support a federal structure, as a good way of reconciling the aspirations of their community with the fears and the goals of the Turkish Cypriot community, particularly in view of the Greek Cypriot side’s failure to convince the Turkish Cypriots and the international community that the unitary state should be their preferred option.
Why do 20 per cent of Greek Cypriots favour partition?
The university study has shown that 20 per cent of Greek Cypriots favour partitioning the island into two separate states. The composition of this segment of Greek Cypriot society is heterogeneous. There are certain Greek Cypriots, happily few, who oppose the possibility of a reunited Cyprus because they fear their short-term economic interests may be adversely affected. Then, there are certain Greek Cypriot politicians who are aware that their political career will end abruptly in the event of the reunification. Likewise, there are a few very senior civil servants who are concerned that their promotion prospects will be adversely affected. Lastly, there are certain Greek Cypriots (as well as Turkish Cypriots), who have lost loved ones or have painful memories from the intercommunal incidents of the past 70 years. In these cases, there are justified fears which can be overcome only by designing and activating safety valves capable of preventing such ugly incidents recurring.
An interesting element of the study – from a Greek Cypriot perspective – is that the most important parameters of a solution that would render it acceptable were identified as the issue of the land that would be allocated to each constituent state, the issue of property (including the compensation payable to those that would be unable to repossess the property they have lost) and the issue of physical security, but also the security that the solution adopted would be properly and fairly implemented.
In contrast, the politicians appear to be primarily concerned with the structure of the state and are preoccupied with issues such as the rotating presidency and the one positive vote. As already mentioned, the concern of some politicians to the prospect of losing certain of their powers and privileges, not only leads them to shift the emphasis of the negotiations onto issues that are of no concern to the ordinary people but – in at least certain cases – induces them to undermine the negotiation process.
The tangible proof that maintaining the status quo for an extended period of time is unfeasible is the comparison of the situation prevailing today with that of a few years ago. Today, we are fighting tooth and nail to hold onto Unficyp. The Turkish Cypriots are emigrating to other EU states. The settlers are constantly increasing. The total islamification of northern Cyprus is advancing steadily. The political and economic embrace of northern Cyprus by Turkey is tightening. A military incident (even the accidental firing of a rifle) along a confrontation line, which is 200 km long, could ignite a fire that would be difficult to extinguish.
Cyprus happens to be located in a turbulent and politically unstable part of the world. If the island’s internal situation is also uncertain and unstable, anything can happen, just as it did in 1974.
Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia