Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Greece begins to unpack its Cyprus policy

Prime Minister Yiorgos Papandreou is seizing an initiative in an area where Kostas Karamanlis' government was allowing opportunity to escape – Cyprus.

Where New Democracy undertook no new initiatives in five and a half years in power, Pasok is beginning to create a new momentum. As Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas told parliament on October 16, “We are going to change the way in which Greek foreign policy is conducted. Our aim is for Greece once again to … be a bearer of initiatives; to seek solutions; to make proposals.” This sort of enterprise diplomacy had all but died.

Standing before the Cypriot parliament on October 20, Papandreou brought Greece back onto the offensive, defining Greece's role as reminding Turkey that it has an interest in a successful reunification of Cyprus.



He made two key points: one, that Turkey's argument of guaranteeing Turkish-Cypriot security through a massive military presence is obsolete since Cyprus became a member of the European Union in 2004 - Brussels now guarantees human rights for its member states; and two, he realigned Greek policy with Cypriot in insisting on a federal arrangement that does not replace the existing Republic of Cyprus: “Turkey must understand that the point of [UN-sponsored] negotiation is not the dissolution but the evolution of the Cypriot state.”

Political tectonics shift

Papandreou's coming to power completes a political tectonic shift that reverses the unsuccessful shifts of 2002-4.

When Pasok lost power in March 2004, it also lost control of the delicate final stages of a five-year strategy to induct Cyprus into the European Union reunified. Incoming New Democracy took a much more cautious stance towards the plan presented by Kofi Annan on 29 March 2004.

This proved disastrous in combination with another shift in power – the defeat of Cypriot President Glafkos Klerides in November the previous year, and his replacement with the more hardline Tassos Papadopoulos.

Papadopoulos' spokesman rejected the so-called Annan Plan on the day of its presentation, and Papadopoulos himself rejected it in a nationally televised address the following month. Unsurprisingly, Greek-Cypriots rejected it overwhelmingly in a referendum days later.

The effect for Greece and Cyprus was overwhelmingly negative. Before Pasok fell from power, it had managed to bring Cyprus to the brink of European Union entry regardless of whether it was divided. Greece managed this on the premise that Greece and Cyprus would do everything possible to resolve the island's division before official entry on May 1. This promise was backed by 30 years of Greek-Cypriot efforts to break down Turkish intransigence to a negotiated solution. Finally, it seemed, the good behaviour of the Greeks was being vindicated. Europe accepted the argument that Cyprus should not be hostage to Turkey. It was precisely at this point that Papadopoulos' advice to vote against the Annan Plan seemed to betray a Cypriot moral commitment to the UN and the EU.

The effect was correspondingly positive for Turkey. Its iconoclastic prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, had spoken of the need for a new Cyprus policy as early as 2002, the year of his election. It was the first such statement by a Turkish premier since the 1974 invasion that divided the island. He gave permission to Turkish-Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat to accept the Plan and Turkish-Cypriots overwhelmingly voted in favour. For the first time in 30 years, it was the Turks who appeared to really want a solution, presented with the carrot of EU entry, and the Greeks who came across as obstructionist and vindictive, effectively vetoing Turkish progress. Unsurprisingly, Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen began to make noises about direct customs union between Brussels and the unrecognised Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, cutting out the Greeks.

In the years that ensued, the Karamanlis government did little to put the process back on track. Essentially, Greece was without a Cyprus policy. The Turks rested on their newly won laurels, making no further gestures of a rapprochement towards Greece. Despite this, Athens waived its veto to the official start of EU membership negotiations with Turkey on 3 October 2005. Karamanlis did not make any serious attempts to show up his Turkish counterpart by taking the diplomatic initiative.

The political tectonics have now begun to shift in the opposite direction again. In Greece, Papandreou has replaced Karamanlis and begun to take the initiative again. In Cyprus, Papadopoulos lost an election in February last year to Dimitris Christofias, a cautious man who kept a neutral line on the Annan Plan in 2004 (he asked his communist party's general assembly to vote what the party line would be – it was against) and started a new round of UN talks in September last year. Christofias thus managed to maintain his credibility as a tough negotiator (which Klerides lost in 2003) while being pro-solution. In Turkey, Erdogan is no longer a battering ram of change; he is, after seven years in power, the apologist for a Cyprus policy he left largely unchanged.

Reviving Turkey's EU incentive


Still, Papandreou has been careful to use more carrots than sticks. He points out that Greece staunchly defends full EU membership for Turkey, not the special relationship suggested by Germany and France. (He rightly sees the latter as potentially entailing dangerous trade-offs at Greece's expense). A Cyprus solution would open up at least eight chapters of EU negotiations presently sealed by Brussels, he says.

But conversely Papandreou allows the threat of Greek and Cypriot displeasure to shine through should Turkey fail to heed his call for cooperation.

The political timing is thus right for Greece to return to the position of trusted party to the dispute, favoured, if not feared, of the West. It can then properly negotiate for all the advantages of the Annan Plan, with neither of the unacceptable aspects for Athens and Nicosia. Those were the extension of the Treaties of Guarantee of 1960, which gave two EU members and a non-member effective power over a third EU member; and the polity of confederation (rather than federation), which would dissolve the Cyprus Republic and effectively legalise the TRNC. If Papandreou manages that over two terms in office, he will have put an end to the most intractable Greek foreign policy problem since World War Two, and written himself into the history books twice.


Further worthwhile reading:

Costas Carras lists seven reasons why the coming months are an opportunity to resolve the Cyprus problem in a paper distributed by ELIAMEP.

The New Athenian's summary of the Annan Plan and history of Cyprus plans.

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