in Articles in English

The UN and the EU should use their carrots to steer towards a multicultural solution

Published in the Cyprus-Mail under the title “Role upgrade needed for EU and UN,” May 21st, 2015.

Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots have not been able to solve the Cyprus problem between them. Neither have they been able to solve it through the involvement of their respective motherlands. The Cyprus problem will only be solved through the United Nations and the European Union, who are already involved in the process, and who should use the carrots that they hold in order to steer the two sides towards a multicultural solution. Bear with me, this is not yet another oft-repeated Cyprob cliché.

The aforementioned intergovernmental organisations must promote the respect of diversity and the rights of all people — including non-dominant national minorities (e.g. Maronites, Armenians and Latins) and new migrant groups — over their culture, language and history. In order to guarantee fair treatment, we need to re-think the bicommunal exceptionalism of the negotiated constitution; namely, to consider whether we are still right in treating Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots as exceptional. We cannot have a healthy debate without the creation of a safe space where non-dominant minorities can express their demands in relation to the upcoming solution plan. And the only way to establish this safe space is through the EU and the UN.

Let us now consider what carrots the UN and the EU hold, which they could use to steer the two sides towards a multicultural solution.

The United Nations provide their good offices through the office of their representative in Cyprus. The UN have an advisory role, which means that they cannot force or enforce any decision; it is up to the constitutive sides to reach an agreement. Nevertheless, the UN are those with the expert knowledge, responsible for drafting and facilitating the negotiation for the new constitution.

The European Union is also involved in the negotiations, albeit through a less hands-on approach in comparison to the UN; one that nonetheless spans multiple domains. The European Commission releases the Annual Enlargement Package, which includes strategy and progress reports for each country. A lot of political weight is put into those reports, since they decide whether additional requirements will be imposed on the accession criteria of states that aspire to join the Union. As such, the EU has the ability — and does exercise it — to put pressure on Turkey through its Annual Progress Report.

Similarly, the European Commission can exercise pressure on the leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community. The EC has set up a Directorate-general for Enlargement which has, in turn, set up a task force for the Turkish Cypriot Community, that runs a Programme Support Office (EUPSO) in north Cyprus. The Aid provided by the EU through EUPSO aims to facilitate the social and economic development of northern Cyprus, to develop and refurbish its infrastructure, to support civil society in creating initiatives for reconciliation and to prepare the post-solution implementation of EU law. The Aid programme was established in 2006, and it had an initial life-span of five years, but it was extended from 2011 onwards with an additional €28 million annually, in support of the on-going UN process.

Thus the TC leadership has a very good monetary incentive to abide by the Commission’s guidance, and Turkey — through the Progress Report and because of the fact that in absence of the EUPSO Aid given to the TC, the gap in TRNC’s balance of payments would have to be filled by the Turkish state, which finances the regime in the north — is also incentivised towards finding a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem.

The Republic of Cyprus, on the other hand, is already bound to the EU as all member-states are, and as such it is also incentivised for cooperation on finding a solution to the problem. Since March 25th, 2013, the RoC has an additional motivation to seek a solution. A solution to the Cyprus problem would be beneficial to the economy, and given that the RoC is under a Memorandum of Understanding with the Troika it is in dire need of political initiatives that will have financially beneficial outcomes for the country’s economy.

The authority of the EU and the UN is deliberately interwoven. The objectives of the UN and the EU in relation to the Cyprus problem are the same, and they are supported both materially and practically — the Aid and Grants of the EU, the good services of the UN in Cyprus, and the EU’s role as a guarantor for the success of the new constitution. Furthermore, the UN Security Council’s Resolutions and the case law of the European Court of Human Rights pertaining to Cyprus are used as political assets by both sides — thus the resolutions, ruling and reports issued by the two intergovernmental institutions can easily shift the balance of power between the two communities.

A recent example that followed the rejection of the Annan Plan by the Greek Cypriots, has been the creation of the Immovable Property Commission, where the ECtHR ruled that a new court would be set up in north Cyprus to resolve property disputes related to GC properties in northern Cyprus. The creation of IPC has shifted the balance of power between the two sides considerably, because it was the first EU-sanctioned institution established in the internationally unrecognised TRNC. Whereas the GC political elites maintain that taking a case to the IPC means recognising TRNC, the ECtHR clarified that the IPC does not constitute a recognition of the state in the north, for it is placed under the authority of Turkey and not TRNC.

Nevertheless, the public attitudes towards the EU and the UN are low amongst both the Greek- and Turkish-Cypriots. According to the latest Eurobarometer data, 86% of the Greek Cypriots believe that their voice does not count in the EU. 77% of GCs believe that their voice does not count in Cyprus either. 52% of Greek Cypriots are against the Euro and only 46% believe that they are citizens of the EU. The Eurobarometer results for the TC communirty show that 57% of TCs answered that they trust the EU and 49% have a “total positive” image of it. Trust towards the UN was slightly lower at 47%.

The opinion polls paint a bleak picture of the UN and EU. There is consensus of distrust towards the EU and the UN by both GCs and TCs, which is featured consistently across different surveys. Nevertheless, the negative consensus can be justified — the Annan Plan was rejected, all attempts for reunification since then have failed, and both states have been subject to severe austerity measures.

The success of the negotiations relies upon a positive consensus on the involvement of IOs in the process of reaching a comprehensive solution of the Cyprus problem. It is less a matter of transference of power from the domestic to the international, and more an issue of revision of the existing involvement of these intergovernmental institutions to the Cyprus problem; to revise their involvement in order to make sure that it is in accordance and compatible with the Lisbon Treaty and the Charter of the UN, which both explicitly uphold the respect of diversity. It would require that the EU or the UN provide arbitration for the deliberation over the rights of minority cultures, making sure that cultures are not denied rights because their cultural identities are ignored or misrepresented.

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  1. While I agree in principle (i.e. that we need to respect all communities/minorities), changing the basis of the negotiation in order to ensure the human rights for everyone is very similar to the rhetoric adopted by the parties which would like to see a “withdrawal of troops and one state”. Nonetheless, it would be a good fight for the communities to ensure their rights, representation and identity.

    Another take would be that given the today’s situation we should invest to follow through on what we have set out to accomplish and once we can establish a society that is more inclusive, progressive we can work towards a better acknowledgment and understanding of the smallest communities in our country.

    The answers to the above (i.e. why wait? what is right is right etc) are all good and acceptable, yet I believe we are NOT mature enough as a society to deal with that in addition to the Cyprus problem… Sad but its the sad truth as far as I am concerned. Therefore I do believe that the sheltering provided to our Armenian, Maronite, Latin communities that are under the larger GC umbrella is a safe haven.

    Finally, while it is good to uphold the cultural identities of our background we need to establish an identity for the people of this island that is clearly Cypriot. This does exist even if it not in the mainstream media or mentality of the society. Being Cypriot, whether one parent is Russian, born in the UK by Cypriots, with one parent from Paphos and one from Nigeria or whatever does not mean you are not Cypriot. We need to promote what unites us while valuing what makes as different. This is both a personal and a community issue; each one of us if different even if we share some characteristics or belong to the same group. There is a sizable Philipino minority now in Cyprus as well as other Asian cultures. What we need it a society that is inclusive as well as welcoming. That is we accept you, and we welcome you to be part of our society.

    Anyways… just thoughts.

    • Hi Michalis,

      Thank you for the comment. You’ve touched upon many interesting issues. The most important, I think, is the first one: that it would be hugely problematic to replace BBF with some other constitutional arrangement. Yet, there is much that can be done within that framework. For instance, you can still have the bizonality dimension whilst clustering the villages of minorities and giving them some local rights over and above what is given to municipalities. Or include them in the process of drafting the new history books. Or restore and give them back their churches. There are many avenues to be explored once minority groups such as the Maronites are identified as national groups.

      Furthermore, and in relation to your last paragraph, multicultural constitutionalism does not preclude the development of a Cypriocentric identity. On the contrary, in fact: what unites the people is their loyalty towards the constitution (and not to an ethnic group that dominates the state), which recognizes and gives them dignity, self-respect and access to a societal culture, what is otherwise known as constitutional patriotism.