Another last chance in Cyprus

Another last chance in Cyprus

The Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders, along with foreign ministers of the three guarantor states Turkey, Greece and Britain, came together for open-ended discussions on the future of Cyprus in the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana on June 28. The five-party talks are a continuation of the attempt that first commenced on Jan. 12 under the auspices of U.N. Secretary General Antonio Gueterres, but failed in its first round. It focuses on reaching convergence on the core issues to reunify the island and to end the years of division.

In the background are the two years of negotiations between Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akıncı, respective presidents of the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). This background has so far created a collegial atmosphere between them and their teams, and brought about the most likely environment for solution first time since the failure of the Annan Plan in 2004.

To recap, the Annan Plan, which sought the reunification of the island as well as the exchange of territories and gradual withdrawal of Turkish troops over time, was approved by 65 percent of the Turkish Cypriots through a simultaneous referendum in April 2004 on both sides of the island. It was rejected by 76 percent of Greek Cypriots, and thus failed to be implemented. Since then, the TRNC has faced international isolation while the RoC has enjoyed the benefits of its EU membership. With the election of Mustafa Akıncı as the president of the TRNC in April 2015, both sides felt sufficiently confident to start yet another round of negotiations that ultimately brought us to Crans-Montana. The atmosphere seemed positive enough that the U.N. Secretary General took the initiative to invite all the relevant parties to hammer out the end game.

There is a general feeling that this is indeed the last chance to reunite the island. As Akıncı has emphasised on several occasions, this wil be the last time that his generation is trying its chance for a solution. Younger generations, who have no memory of living together, may not be interested in a united island at all. Even the U.N. has signalled that it might end its longest-running peacekeeping mission - the U.N. Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus, in existence since 1964 – when its current mandate expires at the end of July.

Yet there is still no real change in the positions of the negotiating parties on the most important issues. While the Greek side is trying to portray the talks in Crans-Montana as an attempt to find a compromise on the last remaining unsolved issues - that are the removal of Turkish troops from the island and the status of international guarantees for security - the Turkish side keeps reminding everyone that there has not yet been an agreed upon formula for power sharing, governance, property rights and territorial adjustments.

 In short, there has been no agreement at all on anything that really matters. In any case, it has been the mantra of the Cyprus negotiations from their inception in the 1970s that “either there will be an agreement on all issues, or there will be no agreement at all.” In other words, the negotiations are based on the principle that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

Any compromise in this last stage of the negotiations will surely be reflected in both Cypriot leaders’ political futures, especially considering the forthcoming presidential elections on the Greek side in February 2018. But the leaders should bear in their mind that there will be no common future on the island without real compromises, and publicity games never pay off. Any real solution will be unpopular on both sides and may endanger the leadership positions of both Anastasiades and Akıncı, but that is how true leaders are born.