The Cyprus dilemma at a crossroads – a perspective on negotiations

The Turkish Cypriot refusal to accept the EU’s presence at the negotiation table represents a profound challenge to the effectiveness of EU mediation in negotiations over Cyprus.

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By Dr. Ahmed Magdy Al-Soukkary

While it seems that the Cyprus question will not see a breakthrough in the near future, the process of Turkey’s progress towards the EU has been extremely slow. Exploring the Cyprus problem and it’s repercussions on Turkey’s accession negotiations from a negotiating perspective helps analyze the different possibilities of reaching a settlement.

In an official statement on May 22, the Turkish Cypriot leader, Dervis Eroglu, alleged that the Greek Cypriot leadership continues to avoid sitting at the negotiating table by “showing as pretext” its economic issues. This statement came only a few days after the Turkish Cypriot foreign minister, Huseyin Ozgurgun, stated that the “Cyprus talks might get delayed to the end of 2013” and that the Turkish-Cypriot side was against seeing the EU at the negotiation table. Since Nicos Anastasiades took over the Presidential Palace in February, the government has been in crisis mode trying to avert a disorderly default of the banking system and state.

The position of Turkish Cypriots is that Cyprus talks should resume immediately on the basis of the equal community status granted by the 1960 constitution (they consider themselves politically equal to Greek Cypriots, and reject being defined as a minority).  The Greek Cypriots, meanwhile, don’t consider the Turkish Cypriots as equal partners, and do not want to share the state of Cyprus with the Turks. The wish of most Greek Cypriots is for Turkish Cypriots to be content with minority rights alone, and for them to give up on the idea of co-partnership. Greek Cypriots even hope that Turkish Cypriots will disappear within such a system, and Cyprus will be completely Greek in the course of time. 

The Cyprus dilemma – a clash of interests and identities

The remarkable deadlock in the Cyprus problem lies in the lack of confidence between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Turkish Cypriots – who gained a territory-based sovereignty in the post-1974 era – now propose a federal solution in which Northern Cyprus has broad autonomy, in addition to communal equality with Greek Cypriots. As such, no peace proposal will be realistic in the post-1974 era unless it takes into consideration the fact that Turkish Cypriots have founded their own state in Northern Cyprus.

From an interests perspective, although the solution proposed by the former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2004 was approved by the Turkish Cypriots, it was rejected by Greek Cypriots. The Annan Plan showed that the party not desiring a solution was the Greeks, but not the Turks.

Turkey-Northern Cyprus relations

What about Turkey’s role in the Cyprus question – one of the primary issues of Turkish foreign policy since the fifities. For the Turkish Cypriots, their new leader, Derviş Eroğlu, said that if there will be an agreement, the decision will be taken by the people of Turkish Republic of North Cyprus (TRNC). He argued that they consult with Turkey – just like the Greek Cypriots consult with Greece – but Ankara allegedly doesn’t interfere in negotiations. For Eroğlu, the duty until an agreement is reached is to defend “our own state”. Despite the intensity of the ongoing crisis, both Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, and Eroğlu have insisted on restarting talks immediately, suggesting that a failure to do so would open the door to a two-state solution.

Since Cyprus’ accession to the EU on 1st May 2004, Cyprus accused Turkey of a number of reported incidents, indicating that the Turkish government continues to violate basic principles of international law, thereby seriously affecting international and EU shipping interests. Cyprus also accused Turkey of pursuing restrictive measures since April 1987, particularly the prohibition on vessels bearing the Cyprus flag to call at Turkish ports.

At that time, the Turkish Authorities justified the said measures as a counteraction to the adoption by the Republic of Cyprus of a lawful order in October 1974 proclaiming three ports in the occupied north of Cyprus as closed ports to international navigation (Famagusta, Karavostasi and Kyrenia). This measure was introduced in order to uphold the sovereignty of the Republic of Cyprus over its ports and harbours, combined with the fact that navigational safety could no longer be guaranteed in an area illegally occupied by the Turkish army since 1974. Though the issue of the Turkish embargo has been raised before international bodies, especially within EU Institutions, a solution remains elusive.

The Cyprus problem and Turkey’s European path

Turkey’s slow progress in EU accession negotiation confirms that a solution to the Cyprus question is vital for both continued progress and cooperation with the EU in generalTurkey’s membership negotiations have progressed very slowly; certainly at a slower pace than other cases like countries like Croatia, despite the size and reciprocal interests between the EU and Turkey. The European Council decision not to open negotiations on a number of key chapters is a clear signal that a breach of Turkey’s legal obligations arising from the acquis communautaire cannot be accepted. It is now up to the Turkish side to fulfil its obligations.

In this regard, during more than seven years, only 13 of 35 chapters” have been opened by Turkey: 17 have been blocked, whilst four have not yet been opened. Turkey has completed only one chapter (“Science and Research”), which has been provisionally closed. No chapters have been opened in the past two-and-a-half years, since the end of the Spanish presidency in June 2010.

The persistence of the Turkish embargo constitute a clear obstacle to trade between EU ports and Turkey; distorting the principle of fair and free competition in shipping trade with the EU, adversely affecting the merchant fleets of EU Member States, and causing substantial increases in transportation costs. The Turkish measures restrict, or threaten to restrict, the free access of EU shipping, further undermining economic development and cooperation in a region that falls within the framework of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership.

Full implementation of the EU–Turkey Customs Union Agreement, and its extension to the Republic of Cyprus, will lead to the lifting of Turkey’s restrictive measures against Cyprus and community shipping, with very positive economic consequences. Based on 2004 data, the actual direct annual economic cost to the Republic of Cyprus of Turkey’s embargo is estimated at €99.5m or 1.2% of GDP.

Overcoming barriers in negotiations – a look into the future

Two main difficulties hinder a lasting peaceful settlement to the Cyprus dispute:

  • The current financial and economic crisis preoccupying Cyprus;
  • The nature of European mediation and whether it could be accepted by both the Turkish and Greek Cypriots – the Turkish Cypriots don’t really accept the EU at the table and ask for a road map to be drawn in Cyprus. This represents a profound challenge to the effectiveness of EU mediation in negotiations over Cyprus.

With Nicos Anastasiadis having supported the 2004 Annan Plan – even though a majority (61%) of his party voted it down – the possibility of resuming talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots may depend more on the ability to reach a compromise between the expectations of Turkish Cypriots of having their own state and the demands of Greek Cypriots.

Turkey’s EU accession negotiations can provide a platform to stimulate both Cyprus – an EU member – and Turkey to come to the ZOPA (Zone of Possible Agreement). Through their rather large annual payments to Cyprus, the EU has the the necessary leverage to induce compromise. Indeed, some believe that the European Commission can also point towards likely economic benefits if Turkish ports and airports are opened. The aim would be to reduce Cyprus’ resistance to reunification and Turkey’s EU accession.

Seeing a mutually-accepted Cypriot reunification plan, Turkey would be able to continue cooperation with the EU and advance its accession talks, whereas Greece and Cyprus would be more willing to accommodate Turkey’s requests. Nicos Anastasiadis could give Cyprus’s settlement talks a new push that might lead to its dropping some of its own vetoes on new chapters in Turkey’s accession negotiations. Through such a combination of soft and hard approaches from influential actors, a settlement to the Cyprus dilemma may finally be in sight.

Dr. Ahmed Magdy Al-Soukkary is an Egyptian academic lecturer in International Negotiations at the Faculty of Economics and Political Science (FEPS), Cairo University. He has a very distinguished academic career in Turkish Studies, completing a PhD in political science and international relations on “The Process of International Negotiation –  a Theoretical Study with Application on the Turkish-European Negotiations”. His MSc in political science explored “The Impacts of the Iranian-Turkish Relations Towards the Arab Regional System in the Nineties”, whilst his graduation research paper in political science looked at “Turkey and The Arab – Israeli Conflict 1948 – 1989.”

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