BOSPORUS BLOG: Too much of the same in Cyprus

By bne IntelliNews May 14, 2012

bne -

It is said that life rarely changes on a small island - and so it is with the divided island of Cyprus. Greek Cypriots are preparing for a six-month stint holding the EU's rotating presidency, which is likely to put the already deadlocked negotiations with the northern Turkish half further into deep freeze. The world is asking: when will some movement come to this frozen conflict?

Not anytime soon, reckons Dr Ahmet Sozen of the Cyprus Policy Centre in Turkish North Cyprus. The last time the Cypriots neared a settlement was in 2004, with the so-called "Annan Plan" that aimed to create a federation of two states to reunite the island. Greek Cypriots ended up rejecting the plan when it went to referendum after numerous revisions; an outcome that senior international diplomats claimed was a surprise.

Today, 68% of Greek Cypriots and 65% of Turkish Cypriots desire that the current negotiations lead to a settlement, according to Sozen, who conducted a bi-communal survey as part of an initiative called "Cyprus 2015". But while the desire for settlement is there, reaching it is still far off, with 65% of Greek Cypriots and 69% of Turkish Cypriots not believing the current talks will lead to a settlement.

And, unfortunately, they appear to be correct. A push by UN chief Ban Ki-moon to reach a new stage in negotiations by the time the Greek Cypriots assume the EU presidency on July 1 has failed. In April, plans for an international conference on the Cyprus issue were scrapped, with Ban saying that the two sides had failed to make progress on proposals to become a federal power-sharing state.

Such a state, one based on federalism and equal status for both Turkish and Greek Cypriots, has remained the international community's solution to the decades-long conflict. But it is only the second choice for Cypriots, says Sozen.

The "Cyprus 2015" survey shows that the first choice for a solution for 93% of Greek Cypriots is a unitary state, in which Turks will be considered a minority. 90% of Turkish Cypriots favour two independent states. A federation as the solution comes second, with 79% of Greek Cypriots and 75% of Turkish Cypriots supporting the idea. Only 37% of those surveyed preferred the status quo among Greek Cypriots, 64% among Turkish Cypriots.

A federation is still viewed as the only real possibility for ending the conflict, yet further negotiations are impossible until after the 2013 presidential election in Greek Cyprus. The incumbent president, Dimitris Christofias, is considered a lame duck with very low support and not seen as a credible interlocutor.

Even if the Greek Cypriots elect a leader with the mettle to advance the negotiations, the end is unlikely to be in sight because the two communities have different models for the federalism that they favour.

87% of Greek Cypriots and 53% of Turkish Cypriots support the Greek model of federation, which includes no restrictions on settlement and property ownership throughout the entire island. and an end to the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee between Cyprus, Turkey, Greece, Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom, which Turkey used to justify its 1974 invasion of the island. 66% of Turkish Cypriots and 28% Greek Cypriots support the Turkish model of federation, which includes restriction on settlement and property ownership, and the continuation of the Treaty of Guarantee. "Inter-communal talks have been going on for 44 years," Sozen says, describing how long the two sides have been deadlocked. "Since the year I was born."

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