Big expectations as Cyprus peace talks restart
Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders held a symbolic meeting on Tuesday (11 February) to launch talks on creating a “united Cyprus federation.”
The event, at an abandoned airport in no man’s land, brought together Cypriot President Nikos Anastasiades and Dervis Eroglu, the head of the mostly unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), in their informal capacities as the “leaders” of their “communities.”
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It saw a UN official read out the text of a new framework accord.
The text says there should be “a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality” for the Greek Cypriot constituent state and the Turkish Cypriot constituent state.
It will be ruled by a “federal government” under a “federal constitution” adjudicated by a “Federal Supreme Court.”
Its people will be full citizens of the united entity, but will also hold “internal” citizenship in either of the two parts. The new Cyprus will be a legal continuation of the existing Cypriot state in terms of its UN and EU membership.
Details of the accord are to be negotiated by senior officials from Cyprus and from the TRNC with no arbitration on, for instance, maritime zone claims, by international courts.
The final deal will have to be approved by political leaders and ratified by referendums.
Both sides have been here before in the 40-year-old frozen conflict.
But the draft accord represents new concessions which have raised hopes of a breakthrough in the next few months.
In the past, Greek Cypriots had refused to treat Turkish Cypriots as an equal partner, while Turkish Cypriots had been wary of agreeing to single sovereignty and had wanted to involve outside arbitrators.
The talks also come in new economic circumstances.
Cyprus last year averted bankruptcy by seeking a €10 billion bailout from the EU and the International Monetary Fund.
It is rebounding more quickly than expected - a review mission by the lenders also on Tuesday said its GDP shrank 2 percent less than expected and it will return to growth by 2015. It added that its tourism sector is “resilient” and its banking sector is “showing signs of stabilisation.”
But reunification could see it return to prosperity more quickly, not least because it would speed up exploitation of natural gas in disputed maritime areas.
The gas issue “can certainly be helpful” in bringing the two sides together, an EU diplomat said.
Meanwhile, a Cyprus deal would have strategic consequences for the region.
It would remove a leading impediment for Turkey’s EU accession and normalise EU-Nato ties, which are bedevilled by Turkey’s veto on sharing Nato information with the EU due to Cyprus’ EU membership.
It would also open the door to exports of gas from Cyprus to the EU via Turkey, with the help of Israeli and US firms, lowering energy dependence on Russia.
For their part, the EU Council and European Commission heads welcomed Tuesday’s development.
They said the draft accord “lays a solid foundation … for a fair and viable comprehensive settlement.” The commission also pledged to send a special representative, Belgian lawyer Pieter Van Nuffel, to “contribute actively to the search for constructive solutions.”
The Cypriot negotiators are due to hold their first meeting next week.
Past talks have struggled to solve claims on properties abandoned by people who fled their homes and businesses in the 1974 war, with the draft accord saying nothing on the subject.
“The joint communique is not the final solution, but the beginning of a painstaking effort to reach the desirable aims,” Anastasiades said.