16/02/2003 - Analysis
Cyprus, an island in the middle of the Mediterranean finds itself today at a crossroads. Glafcos Cléridès, President of the Republic of Cyprus (South), and Rauf Denktash, leader of the Turkish part (North), the Heads of State of the Northern and Southern parts of the island, that has been divided since 1974, started direct negotiations at the beginning of December in order to end the country's division following a peace plan suggested by the UN on 11th November. The UN has given the political leaders until 28th February to reach an agreement, failing which no other alternative has been provided for and the Southern part of the island will join the EU alone. "The choice lies between this plan ... and none at all." Declared Alvaro de Soto, personal representative of the UN's Secretary General, Kofi Annan, in Cyprus. It is within this difficult context that the Greek Cypriots will elect the new President of their Republic on 16th and 23rd February. A most vital election both for the island and for the whole of Europe.
The UN's Peace Plan
Since July 1974 Cyprus has been divided by the "green line", into two separate entities, controlled by the UN's peace-keeping force. The Northern part of the island is occupied by the Turkish Army and proclaimed itself as being the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, an entity that only Turkey recognises on an international level. 190,000 Cypriots live there versus 650,000, in the Southern part of the island, of which a third are refugees from the North. Although Brussels has not made the resolution of the conflict a condition for Cyprus' membership of the EU, the perspective of the island's integration comprises a real chance of putting an end to a problem that is nearly 30 years old. On 11th November 2002, the UN suggested a plan to the Cypriots that would establish a common State along the lines of the Helvetic Confederation and two constituent States, one Greek the other Turk, each exercising all the powers that the Constitution does not delegate explicitly to a common State. The latter would be competent in terms of foreign and European policies, economy, currency, defence and immigration. A President and a Vice President, one Greek and the other Turk would exercise power alternately according to a ten-monthly rota system. The government would be undertaken by a college of six representatives within which each community would have a number of seats proportional to its demographic weight. The demilitarised island would be placed under the protection of the armed forces of Turkey, Greece and the UK, these three countries being the constitutional guarantors of the peace agreement. The presence of the UN peace-keeping forces would also be upheld. Each Cypriot would have dual nationality, that of the common State and that of his/her own entity. Finally the peace plan stipulates that the Turkish Cypriots would control 28% of the island against 37% at present, thereby enabling 60,000 of the 200;000 Greek Cypriots who were displaced during the Turkish invasion in 1974 to return home.
On Wednesday 15th January President Glafcos Cléridès and Rauf Denktash met for the first time since the publication of the UN peace plan. Discussions are to go on until 30th March 2003, when both of the island's communities will vote by referendum on the peace plan. Two commissions have been created to write the thirty or so laws that will comprise the legal basis of united Cyprus.
How the population is reacting
The island's population is divided in the face of the peace plan. According to the opinion polls most of the Greek Cypriots reject the UN's proposition. 75% say they fear violence if the island is reunified and 52% fear a drop in their standard of living (the difference in the GDP of both parts of the island is significant: 13,000 € annually versus 3,000 in the North). Many are also worried about the possible naturalisation of a great majority of the 60,000 settlers from Anatolia who came to the North of the island after 1974. According to the peace plan it will be possible for half of these to become Cypriot citizens (they have to have lived on the island for seven years to gain the nationality), the others might be offered financial compensation. But most of all Cypriots fear that the negotiations on reunification will only end in endangering the membership procedures to the EU for the Southern part of the island. "The most important thing for us it to belong to the Union and to have a defined future devoid of political danger," stresses George Vassiliou, a Cypriot negotiator in Brussels.
Contrary to the inhabitants in the Southern part of the island, Turkish Cypriots are mostly in favour of the UN peace plan (88% according to a poll undertaken in September 2002 by the Kadern Institute and 65.4% according to a poll published at the end of December in the newspaper Kibris), for exactly the opposite reasons advanced by their neighbours in the South. In the reunification the inhabitants in the North recognise the chance of emerging from the economic quagmire in which they live (and also the international embargo that effects them) and the chance to the enter the EU. Indeed, although Turkey aids the Northern part of the island financially the economic crisis that the country is suffering from has not been without effect on Turkish Cypriots. The EU has already announced that if reunification takes place it will dedicate 200 million € in aid to the Turkish part in order to make up for its economic backwardness.
Since the end of November the inhabitants in the North have been increasing public events, bringing together parties of the Social Democrat opposition and organisations from civil society in favour of the UN peace plan. The most recent and the biggest ever organised in the country was held on 14th January uniting almost 50,000 people, ie one quarter of the population of this part of the island. Waving European flags the Turkish Cypriots shouted together "Denktash resign". The President of the Northern part of the island is opposed to the peace plan as it stands believing that the return of the 60,000 Greek Cypriots to the North is unacceptable; he accuses the EU of wanting to "possess Cyprus and construct a kind of Christian fortress around Turkey." But the leader from the North is in trouble since Ankara has indicated to him that it is not in favour of the policy that has been undertaken on the island over the last forty years; Recep Tayyip Erdogan has gone as far as declaring "that the Cypriot affair is not the personal property of Rauf Denktash". Turkey, that has made membership of the EU its priority, has also decided to modify its traditional policy of unconditional support of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. For its part, Greece, that supports Turkey's candidature to the EU has managed to avoid all self-congratulation concerning the Cypriot question. The present Foreign Secretary, George Papandréou, does not miss any opportunity to mention that he sees within the EU a model in the Franco-German reconciliation for the future relations of his country with Turkey. Since it is Greece that ensures the presidency of the Union until 30th June 2003 Cyprus' membership treaty to the EU will be signed in Athens on 16th April.
The Cypriot political system
The 1960 Cypriot Constitution that has not been applied since the inter-community conflicts of 1963 stipulates that the President is also the head of government. The President's function is reserved for a Greek Cypriot if the Vice President is a Turkish Cypriot (at present the post is vacant). According to the Constitution 30% of the seats in government and Parliament are also reserved for Turkish Cypriots. The island's present President is Glafcos Cléridès, elected by universal suffrage for a five year mandate first on 23rd February 1993, with a lead of 1800 votes ahead of the outgoing President George Vassiliou; he was re-elected on 15th February 1998. The Cypriot President who is head of the executive appoints the ministers of the government he leads.
Glafcos Cléridès, who is 83 years old is the oldest head of state in the world. He was an MP and head of Parliament from 1960 to 1976 and as such he ensured the function of interim President from July to December 1974, in the absence of Mgr Makarios who was over thrown during the nationalist coup d'état that led to the Turkish invasion of the Northern part of the island. Between 1960 and 1976 Glafcos Cléridès participated in all the negotiations with the Turkish Cypriots and over the last few years in the peace talks (1993, 1994, 1997 and 2001) that did not lead to any significant progress in terms of reunifying the island. The President is a member of the Democratic Union (Disy) a Conservative movement that he founded in 1976.
Glafcos Cléridès, who had announced that he would not stand for a new mandate changed his mind on 3rd January saying that he would be a candidate for a new presidential mandate, reduced down to 16 months. "It is my duty before History to face these challenges. I cannot do otherwise," he declared justifying his decision by adding, "Developments are taking place rapidly and are historic and will decide the future of Cyprus in the months to come. We shall have to take some major decisions. I shall stay in office for 16 months with the exclusive goal of resolving the national problem (the division of the island) and to ensure Cyprus' membership to the EU". The President has therefore called for a mandate that runs until May 2004 the official date when the island will join the EU.
On 4th January, Alekos Markidès (Democratic Union), public prosecutor and former right hand man to Glafcos Cléridès, announced his candidature in the presidential election against the outgoing President. The leader of the Democratic Party (Diko) Tassos Papadopoulos will, for his part, be the united opposition's candidate. He is supported by the three opposition movements, (Akel, Diko and Kisos (Social Democrat Party) who also quite successfully united during the most recent local elections in December 2001. The support of their candidature by two members of the Democratic Union (Disy) will give Tassos Papadopoulos, the present favourite in the Presidential election according to the polls, a significant advantage. However, the support provided by the USA and the UK for the outgoing president for him to stand again will be decisive in the second round that Cléridès might very well win in fine.
Reminder of the results of the presidential election on 8th and 15th February 1998:
First round on 8th February 1998
Participation : 91.72%
Source Cypriot government
Second round : 15th February 1998
Participation : 93.37%
Source Cypriot government