The Cyprus reunification talks are progressing

The Cyprus reunification talks are progressing

After one and a half years of negotiations, the talks for the reunification of Cyprus have started to see some progress.

The talks have reached a critical point as Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades and President Akıncı of the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) are meeting in Switzerland from November 7th to the 11th. The aim is to complete the negotiations before the end of the year and there is a real possibility of reaching a settlement. If reunification becomes a reality and a proposed ‘bizonal federation’ is established, there are three tangible benefits that would follow in the mid to long-term future.

Cyprus was split in 1974 when Turkey invaded the northern part of the idyllic island in the eastern Mediterranean during a military coup. Only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence, and it keeps approximately 30,000 troops in the disputed region. The southern Republic of Cyprus is a member of the EU and enjoys full member benefits. Without unification, there are major roadblocks to future growth and development on the divided island.

 What do the talks entail?

One of the main topics up for discussion is the territorial adjustment, as Turkish-Cypriots make up 20% of the island’s population, yet hold around 37% of the land. As it stands, the Greek Cypriots rejected the ‘Annan’ plan of 2004 as it allowed for the North to keep 29% of the territory. They will likely be pushing for territorial adjustments that reflect the current population percentages of both regions and the negotiation would include relocating people; a costly endeavor for Cyprus. The outcome currently on the table is the reunification of the island under a ‘bizonal and bicommunal federation’ where the two regions would be ‘ruled’ separately under a federal umbrella.

Turkey’s role in the reunification talks

While the Cyprus talks proceed, Turkey is pushing ahead with infrastructural projects that bolster its role as the North’s main supporter, for instance by building an electricity line from Turkey to the TRNC to meet energy needs. In addition, Turkey will be sending fresh water to the TRNC for up to 50 years. The energy and water projects don’t stand in the way of reunification under a federal banner. However, the presence of Turkish troops stationed in the TRNC could be the sticking point for implementation of a final agreement.


Three realms for positive growth upon reunification

  1. Tourism

Given security concerns in nearby Turkey, Lebanon, and Egypt, there are reasons why tourism to the tiny Mediterranean island is up 17% in September 2016. Would-be tourists remain skeptic of security in Turkey after attacks this year. Due to strict access regulations allowing arrivals to the northern part via Turkey only, tourist infrastructure in TRNC has not been fully developed. Even with the current restrictions, tourism provides approximately a quarter of the island’s overall economy. Reunification would allow for increased development of no-go areas and add an extra air of security to this ideal tourist location.

A reunification would also open up areas that are currently ripe for development but unreachable due to the conflict. A prime example is the town of Varosha that has been uninhabited since the 1974 invasion. Opening up these regions to local and international development show obvious opportunities for growth in Cyprus as well as boost international tourism rates.

  1. Movement of goods and persons

The TRNC is currently under an international embargo supported by the United Nations and enforced by the European Union since 1994. Lifting trade, transport, and other cultural embargoes would open up the region to development and investment opportunities that could widely boost the economy and would also allow Greek Cypriots to trade with Turkey, an unharnessed  neighbor with a dynamic economy.

The European refugee crisis is made more complex due to restrictions on movement, port access, and the like. Reunification would thereby lessen tensions related to the movement of refugees and enhance Cyprus’ ability to work with neighbors to find durable solutions.

  1. Natural resources exploration

Natural gas reserves in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) off of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean will be easier to explore should reunification become a reality. Maritime borders with neighboring Egypt, Lebanon and Israel were set in place in the 2000s and onwards, yet Turkey does not currently accept these agreements. If the dispute can be resolved and more exploration deals move forward, revenues from natural resources could largely aid in Cyprus’ overall development.

Outlook

In conclusion, the situation is ripe for action, and there has not been a more promising chance for the reunification of Cyprus since Turkey’s annexation in 1974. With its strategic location, a move towards reunification could have the effect of contributing towards regional stability. In the coming months, negotiations will demonstrate whether or not Cyprus can become a stable actor in the region. It will be useful to monitor Turkey’s role in the negotiations, as Erdogan would need to let go of the ability to intervene on the TRNC’s behalf militarily, a prospect the authoritarian leader may not wish to give up.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Kira Munk

Kira Munk is a political risk analyst located in the DC Metro area, and has lived in Lebanon and Egypt and the UAE. Kira focuses on topics related to terrorism and counterterrorism, human rights, and the impacts of social and political developments in the MENA. She holds a Master's degree in Terrorism, Security & Society from the Department of War Studies at King's College London.