All we need is money in the Cyprus love song

All we need is money in the Cyprus love song

Ever since I started covering the Cyprus issue in 1990, I have heard two main things from Turkish officials, whom I considered to have the most rational and realistic approaches: 

1 - The parameters of the solution are known to both sides, there’s no need to discover America over and over again. What is needed is for the actors to take the bitter pill and go that last extra mile. 

2 - The key is the property issue. Once that is solved, the others are (relatively) much easier.

Some 26 years have passed since I wrote my first article on Cyprus and I have never come across a better environment for peace talks than today. Not surprisingly, the two points I mentioned above stand as key factors to a final agreement.

A lot of headway has been made in the negotiations, which started last May following the election of Mustafa Akıncı as president of Turkish Cyprus. I am sure the personal chemistry between Akıncı and his Greek Cypriot counterpart, Nikos Anastasiades, has helped the progress registered in issues such as how to share power and the nature of legislative and judicial institutions, as well as the political equality of the two communities.

There seems to be limited convergence on the thorny issue of guarantees (that is, Turkey’s guarantor status) and a rotating presidency, as well as territory (how much of the land under Turkish control would be returned to the Greek Cypriot side). An agreement on these three issues will take that special extra effort on the part of the political leaders on the island, as well as other stakeholders.

If the property issue was solved, there is a fair amount of confidence among those on the Turkish and the Turkish Cypriot side that the issues left to the very end of the negotiation process could be overcome. 
So, the devil is in the property issue. 

The reason why the Annan Plan failed was the conviction among Greek Cypriots that they would get back their property, even in the absence of a peace deal on the island following the Loizidou decision by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). It was expected that the ECHR’s 1996 decision, that Titiana Loizidou had the right to return to her property and that Turkey had to pay her compensation, would force the Turkish side to seek a solution, but at that time it was dragging its feet. But the unintended consequence of the Loizidou decision turned out to be the main reason for Greek Cypriots’ refusal to accept the Annan Plan. 

Then the ECHR took a decision in 2010 which changed the course of the property issue. Known as the Demopoulos decision, it reversed the understanding that restitution was the only principle in the property issue. The court ruling, that the issue could not only be solved through the return of property, but also through compensation and exchange of properties, established the essential framework of the solution today. 

Now the two sides seem to have registered the most important progress on the property issue, as they seem to have reached an agreement over certain guidelines which will determine whether the property in question should be subject to return, exchange or compensation. 

Since it is foreseen that the Turkish Cypriots will have the majority of the ownership of property in the territories under their control, a measure to safeguard the population balance, especially on the Turkish side of the island, there will be serious compensation.

It is estimated that 15 billion euros will be needed for compensation. Finding that amount of money seems to be the most important challenge in front of a peace deal, since Greek Cypriots will not say “yes” in a referendum if they are not convinced that the compensation mechanism will work in a timely and efficiently manner.

So it seems Cyprus is 15 billion euros away from lasting peace.