5 things to know about the latest Cyprus talks
In Geneva, talks on reunification get going after a four-year break.
For the first time since 2017, talks will take place this week on reunifying the divided island of Cyprus.
The informal meeting in Geneva, under the auspices of the United Nations, will last from Tuesday to Thursday and involve governments on both sides of the island — which was split between a Greek Cypriot south and a Turkish Cypriot north after Turkey’s 1974 invasion — as well as Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
As has always been the case, making progress will be tough and it’s down to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres to find common ground that would enable the negotiations to restart in earnest.
Here’s what to expect…
1. Do the talks have any chance of success?
It’s a long shot.
“This round of talks is probably the one where the expectations are at the lowest point ever,” said Gregoris Ioannou, political sociologist and research fellow at the University of Glasgow. “The biggest worry will be how to avert a complete collapse.”
Ankara and the government of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey, have called for a two-state solution to the conflict. Greece and the internationally recognized Republic of Cyprus, an EU member state, continue to back a one-state solution.
Things were further complicated last October when the Turkish Cypriots elected hardliner Ersin Tatar as president of Northern Cyprus.
“From the Turkish Cypriot side the room for maneuver is very limited, because the dependence on motherland Turkey is very high and the view of Tatar is basically the view of [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan, he is not going to deviate,” said Wolfango Piccoli, co-founder of risk analysis company Teneo.
“There is a possibility that this will be a one-off meeting, where there will be a recognition of the current status quo.”
2. Trying to avert a collapse
They may have different points of view, but no one wants to be blamed for leaving the negotiating table or for causing the talks to collapse.
“Since this is the first meeting with all the stakeholders in almost four years, it will not be a breaking point,” said Emre Peker, director at risk analysis firm Eurasia Group.
“The U.N. is likely to arrange a second round to continue exploring opportunities for renewed reunification talks, however grim the prospects. And since no country will want to be the deal-breaker, it will likely materialize sometime later this year.”
No one benefits from the talks collapsing so early in the latest attempt, said Panayotis Tsakonas, professor of international relations at the University of Athens and researcher at the Greek think-tank Eliamep.
“The U.N. kept the expectations low, saying that the meeting is informal and its purpose is to determine whether common ground exists for the parties to negotiate a lasting solution. All parties will have to prove to U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres that, despite their differences, they mean business.”
3. Why are the talks back on?
Because time may be running out for an agreement and the break since the last attempt at reunification has been particularly long.
“The divides are getting wider by the day,” said Peker from Eurasia Group. “Turkish and Greek Cypriots are very close to missing the last opportunity for reconciliation, as after the current ruling generation — who knew the united island — there will be even less appetite for compromises toward a solution.”
On Saturday, thousands of Cypriots from both parts of the island marched calling for a solution on reunification.
“The public on both parts of the island is better prepared to accept a solution,” said Ioannou. “The idea that prevailed for a few years among Greek Cypriots that the exploitation of gas reserves could move ahead without a solution has now collapsed. However, no solution will be achieved unless there is a change in the leaderships.”
4. EastMed flareup
Since the reunification talks collapsed in 2017, the situation in the Eastern Mediterranean has taken a sharp turn for the worse. Greece, Cyprus and Turkey are mired in a dispute over maritime boundaries and natural resources, and Brussels introduced sanctions against Turkish nationals over unauthorized oil drilling off the coast of Cyprus.
Relations between the sides got worse last year after the Turkish Cypriots’ reopening of a symbolic ghost town.
A collapse in these talks could result in renewed tensions in the region.
“Turkey will resume hydrocarbon explorations and naval posturing, as long as the Greek Cypriots do not establish joint administration of energy resources with Turkish Cypriots,” said Peker. “That will in turn break the de-escalatory trend in the East Med since November, and reignite the EU-Turkey spat over the East Med, which will bleed into other areas, derail the so-called positive agenda, and mark a return of confrontational policies.”
5. Western powers’ role
The EU would like to resolve the issue and stabilize relations with Turkey. But the Turkish Cypriots want the EU out of the talks completely, so it can deal purely with the Greek Cypriot government.
“Brussels and EU capitals are unable to act as an honest broker in the matter,” said Peker. “Since Cyprus is already an EU member, the bloc rallies behind the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government. Some member states, like Germany, have attempted to break the gridlock and broker deals, Greek Cypriots have no incentive to back down from their maximalist demands. That limits Turkey and Turkish Cypriots’ maneuvering room, too, gridlocking the process.”
The U.S. is also interested in the Cyprus issue, as part of its broader strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean. However, so far it has refrained from taking a leading role and is not expected to do so in the near future.
“The overall problem is that we are stuck with this U.N. model for a long time,” said Piccoli from Teneo. “In terms of trying to make progress, there is no credible mediator, that can bang their heads around and bring a solution.”