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Time to solve the Cyprus Problem

Andreas Kyriacou
Lecturer in Applied Economics. University of Girona
Andreas Kyriacou

Andreas Kyriacou

The Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities are currently engaged in direct negotiations in an effort to resolve the Cyprus Problem. The origins of the dispute lie in the second half of the 1950s when the Greek Cypriot majority, in tune with the self-determination tendencies of the times fought to overthrow the colonial rule of the United Kingdom and unite Cyprus with Greece. This led to a nationalist reaction on the part the Turkish Cypriot minority which started to call for the partition of the island and the unification of the resultant parts with Greece and Turkey respectively. This required the physical separation of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities on the island which at that point lived in mixed towns and villages.

In 1960 the independent Republic of Cyprus was founded based on a power sharing constitution. The 1960s were characterised by conflict - initially democratic but soon violent – which led to the breakdown of the constitutional order, polarised the two communities even further and led to their gradual physical separation. A coup by the Greek military junta (exploiting divisions within the Greek Cypriot community) led to the Turkish invasion and war, cutting the island into two and completing the physical separation between the two ethnic groups.

In the late 1970s the idea of an independent federal bizonal and bicommunal republic was adopted by both sides but the Turkish Cypriot side began to settle mainland Turks in occupied Cyprus and in the early 1980s, unilaterally declared the creation first of the "Turkish Federated State of Cyprus" ("TFSC") and then of the "Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus" ("TRNC") which is denied international recognition. Strong and sustained economic growth in the South has contrasted with stagnation in the north where public spending has typically depended on fiscal transfers from Turkey.

In the early 2000s, three crucial events occurred. First, faced with growing disaffection among Turkish Cypriots, the authorities in the north opened a number of border crossings in 2003 thereby facilitating the daily movements of Turkish Cypriots to the south for work as well as visits by both Greek and Turkish displaced persons to their homes. Second, in April of the following year a UN sponsored plan was, for the first time, put to separate referendums in the north and the south and was roundly rejected by Greeks Cypriots and accepted by Turkish Cypriots and Turkish settlers. Third, one week later, Cyprus became a member of the European Union, a decision already agreed to by the European Council a year before.

The two communities have different positions as to the nature of a reunified Cyprus. The Greek Cypriots prefer a federal arrangement, the unrestricted enjoyment of the freedom of movement and settlement and the right of property in the long run, 20 to 25 per cent of the land under Turkish Cypriot administration and the complete demilitarisation of the island with a security guarantee provided by the international community. The Turkish Cypriots prefer a confederal arrangement, a permanently limited enjoyment of the freedom of movement and settlement and the right of property, 29+ to 37 per cent of the island under Turkish Cypriot administration and, finally, a continued Turkish troop presence on the island and a legal right of unilateral intervention by Turkish armed forces.

EU accession has clearly increased the negotiating strength of the Greek Cypriot side it allows it to link progress in Turkey's own EU aspirations to a resolution of the conflict. It also argues that any solution must respect the EU's basic principles something which favours its opposition to indefinite restrictions to the freedom of movement and settlement. EU accession has also allowed Greek Cypriot displaced persons to pursue the assets of EU citizens who have exploited their properties in the north in EU courts. In response to this, Turkey and Turkish Cypriots point to the possibility of secession by the north. Moreover, Greek Cypriots are aware that a solution sooner rather than later could act to contain the demographic changes in the north due to Turkey's continued settler policy.

Each side seems to have entered the latest round of negotiations in a spirit of goodwill and a desire to finally put an end to the division of the island. The truth is that the events since 2003 have radically changed the economic, social, legal and political environment framing the conflict offering the real possibility of attaining a reunified European Republic of Cyprus. Spain, the current holder of the EU presidency and itself a multi-national European state, should encourage the two sides to seize this historic moment.