Read few comments.
1. Do you think that the Energy Union and energy projects related to Cyprus may have a positive effect (negative?) on reunification talks?
2. Many observers say that it seems that there is finally a real chance having some breakthrough in talks. Do you agree or not, and why?
James Ker-Lindsay, Senior Research Fellow on the Politics of South East Europe, London School of Economics and Political Science
1. I have actually taken the view that the energy discoveries have actually done far more harm than good in the search for a Cyprus solution. Rather than act as a catalyst for a settlement, the whole issue has in fact served to drive the parties further apart. Indeed, there was a point not so long ago when we were really facing the prospect of a major military incident in the Eastern Mediterranean because of this issue. Overall, I would argue that the prospect of energy wealth served to dampen Greek Cypriot support for a solution in the short to medium term. Many believed that a settlement should wait until the natural gas started to generate income. At this point, or so the thinking went, the Turkish Cypriots would be desperate to do a deal on Greek Cypriot term. This was always wishful thinking. I don’t think that things would ever have got that far. Turkey made it clear that it would not let the Greek Cypriots exploit the gas – even though it is widely acknowledged that the Republic of Cyprus has every right to do so. I do not think Ankara was bluffing. To my mind, the current peace process is succeeding despite the discovery of natural gas, not because of it.
2. I am very optimistic that we may be on the verge of a Cyprus solution. I have been following events on the island for over twenty-five years and I do think that this is the closest we have ever been to a deal. In part, this is because of the two leaders. They have shown an unprecedented willingness to work together to reach an agreement. However, it is also due to changing political circumstances. Many Turkish Cypriots are growing increasingly concerned about the direction Turkey is taking and the increasing influence that Turkey’s ruling AKP exerts over their lives. They know that reunification is the best chance to secure their future in a prosperous, peaceful and democratic state. At the same time, I think that many Greek Cypriots are also deeply concerned about the direction Erdogan is leading Turkey. If a deal is not done soon, the division of the island will be cemented with a dysfunctional and highly unstable Turkey.
Having said this, the task facing the leaders cannot be underestimated. There are a huge range of issues that need to be tackled, such as the the structure of the state, the size of the two federal entities, compensation for property owners who might not be able to return to their homes, and what to do with settlers brought over from Turkey. Then there are serious security questions, such as whether Greek and Turkish troops will remain on the island after a deal. These will not be easy to overcome. However, with the right attitude all these issues can be resolved. We know the broad outlines of any deal. It is just a question of working out the fine details. This is where goodwill and a willingness to give and take in good faith is so important.
George Kyris, Lecturer in International and European Politics, University of Birmingham
1. Overall, I think the ‘energy’ factor has played a negative role in the Cyprus problem, although recently not so much. Generally, while Turkish Cypriots have actively tried to make the exploration and management of energy resources around the island part of the negotiations agenda, Greek Cypriots have insisted that the issue of energy in a reunified Cyprus is address post-solution. At the same time, international players, including the EU, have not managed to use energy in order to promote more reconciliation- indeed, the fact that Greek Cypriots are recognised as the legitimate government of the island does give them the right to move on with energy policies without necessarily working with the Turkish Cypriots. Until recently, energy led to more intransigence in both sides- see, for example, the agreement between the Turkish Cypriots and Turkey on separate energy explorations. These developments also damaged the progress of talks, which froze in 2014 when Turkey send a warship as a reaction to energy explorations from the Greek Cypriot side. After the election of a new Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci in 2015, talks reopened and have gained momentum and energy is not as prominent as a topic, perhaps also because of its controversy and in an effort to focus on issues that promote reconciliation.
2. Leadership during crucial parts of the negotiations has always been of paramount importance. Courageous, realist and reconciliation leaders are important not only for concluding the agreement but also for ‘selling’ this agreement to their respective communities, who in the end will have to go to the ballot box and approve reunification before it happens. This was very obvious in 2004 and the Annan Plan referenda. This is also the reason why the new Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci since 2015, the most reconciliational politician to ever serve this post, has raised the hopes and has indeed accelerated the talks but also contributed to a very good climate at the level of politicians but also civil society and everyday people. If the two leaders manage to secure an agreement and win the argument against the hardline and status quo forces in each part of the island (and this is a big ‘if’), then everything is possible, even a solution to the Cyprus problem!