An electoral college adapted to Cyprus would allow a political dynamic between Greek and Turkish Cypriots to develop
The UN Secretary-General complained there is no agreement on the model for a settlement of the Cyprus problem let alone a solution.
A model may be elusive but the method of identifying one is not difficult. As Einstein remarked you are crazy if you do the same thing over and over again expecting different results.
So to get agreement you need to consider the fundamentals of the Cyprus independence treaties; next you need to hold referendums whether to change the treaties to enable a power sharing unitary state to become a federation; and if both sides vote yes you adopt and adapt the best federal system to a small island state.
Both sides have not shown much respect for 1960 Cyprus treaties, but they are part of a continuum beginning with the Treaty of Lausanne in 1923 followed by the Treaty of Paris in 1947 through to Cyprus’ treaty and protocol of accession to the EU in 2004. These treaties reflect important historical milestones and have basic provisions that cannot just be wished away.
The 1960 Cyprus treaties were a compromise. Independence was granted on condition it was not to be a stepping stone to union with another state or separatist independence.
Greece sought to unite Cyprus with Greece in 1974 and now Turkey is seeking separatist independence for northern Cyprus.
It is not clear what Turkey and the new Turkish Cypriot leadership have in mind by a two-state solution within the EU, but it sounds like separatist independence since a two-state solution within the EU is excluded by Cyprus’ treaty and protocol of accession under which only one state joined the EU in 2004.
Put another way, a free standing Turkish Cypriot state would have to apply to join the EU as a separate entity. And no one seriously believes any of the twenty-seven member states would agree to admit a second Cypriot state. They are just not going to give another mini state a say on major EU policy decisions that require unanimity.
Turkish Cypriots now enjoy EU citizenship which they would lose under a two-state settlement. It would be as if northern Cyprus left the EU like Greenland did in 1985. But it should only happen after a referendum, as happened in Greenland in 1982 when the tiny population of the huge landmass in the North Atlantic that belongs to Denmark voted out.
It may be that the Turkish Cypriot leadership has decided to go it alone as they do not see any significant benefits from membership as a semi-detached embargoed entity, but it would be arbitrary and wrong to deprive Turkish Cypriots of EU citizenship by executive action alone.
A referendum would offer them a choice: a two-state solution outside the EU or a federal solution within the EU.
But the Greek Cypriots need a referendum too. They need positively to approve a federal model before negotiating for a federal settlement to avoid a repeat of the debacle at Crans-Montana in 2017 when a federal solution had not been cleared with the public first. It paralysed the Greek Cypriot leadership; a presidential election was looming months away and federation rejectionists had the whip-hand and had their way in the end.
As for the model to emulate, the American model is best. It was inspired by the Enlightenment – democracy’s favourite historical period in modern times. The Enlightenment was the time in Europe and America that ushered in constitutional government based on the separation of powers constrained by checks and balances and representative democracy.
The American constitution united embryo states under a federal umbrella that survived a civil war and stood the test of time as the most effective way of balancing representative democracy and state equality. It even inspired the federal constitution of the Swiss Confederation that has frequently been cited as a template for Cyprus.
Cyprus’ 1960 constitution is actually based on the American model albeit of the power sharing rather than federal variety. Obviously there would have to be adjustments and amendments to enable the Turkish Cypriot community to re-engage with the RoC this time under a federal roof in place of rigid complex power sharing arrangements.
Sheltering under a federal roof would accommodate differences while preserving the walls and foundations of a single state sufficient to allow cross political life to develop.
Which conveniently brings me to an aspect of the American constitution that would be key to balancing representative democracy and state equality: the electoral college. Borrowing from the 70/30 ratio from Cyprus’ 1960 constitution an electoral college of that number for the election of president would allow a political dynamic between Greek and Turkish Cypriots to develop for the first time in Cyprus’ history.
Together with equal seats in an upper house; proportional representation in a lower house and imaginative checks and balances between them, such a system could satisfy the concerns of both sides if presided over by a high quality Supreme Court nominated by the president and approved by the upper house.
The checks and balances would have to be tweaked a bit to suit Cyprus’ history, geography and the idiosyncrasies of the Cypriots, and the political dynamic should be given the flexibility to do what the people wish.
The electoral college would not be elected on a winner takes all as happens in America since that would mean that the winner on the Greek Cypriot constituent state would always be elected. A proportional system conducive to encouraging a political life between the two communities would have to be devised so that presidential candidates would have to negotiate support in both states and tailor their policies accordingly.
Turkish Cypriots have been burdened with the slogan of political equality as if it means numerical equality or a partnership state – both of which are misconceived. Political equality means institutional equality – the ballast that stabilises numerically unequal communities.
The best proof the American model works is the fact that the Americans are a distinct people despite lacking a shared ethnicity. As Tom Hanks, playing a principled lawyer, tells a CIA apparatchik who wants him to breach client confidentiality in the film Bridge of Spies: “I am Irish, you’re German. But what makes us both Americans? Just one thing; the rule book. We call it the constitution.”
And although it is an odd time to commend the American model for Cyprus, it is also the best time. The US constitution was tested to the limit over the last two weeks and found in great shape.
Alper Ali Riza is a queen’s counsel in the UK and a part time judge