A Schuman Plan for Cyprus

Güven Sak

Turkish Cyprus is due to hold the second round of its presidential elections on Sunday. The tragedy of the situation is that the outcome of the election probably won’t change things too much for the enclave to go forward. Whoever gets elected will have to act within a very narrow margin of choices because the Cyprus conflict is no longer merely about the inhabitants of the island.

Ana Diamantopoulou wrote in a European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) piece that “disputes between Greece and Turkey as well as those between Turkey and Cyprus are no longer bilateral disputes. They are European and have to be addressed as such.” She is right, but the way the EU can solve the issue is to go back to basics. Let me elaborate.

In 1950, the then-foreign minister of post-war France, Robert Schuman, proposed to place the French and West German production of coal and steel under a common “High Authority.” Adenauer, the then-prime minister of West Germany, backed the plan, and we saw the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) take shape. By pooling coal and steel production, the ECSC has effectively ended the possibility of any further conflict between France and Germany and prepared the basis for what we now know as the European Union.

The Schuman Plan was a peace project based on trade and cooperation. There is no reason that would not work today. Just put “oil and gas” where you see “steel and coal,” and we are looking at a 21st century Schuman plan for Cyprus. Europe already has inclusive diplomatic intuitions, it just needs to put them to use here in a creative manner.

What the Europeans are missing is that they are trying to handle the conflict in the eastern Mediterranean as the frozen block that it is. They need to focus on the island of Cyprus, unfreeze and resolve the conflict at the heart of it, and everything else will follow.

Why is Cyprus at the core of the conflict? We once had a small, relatively contained conflict between the Turkish and Greek populations in Cyprus. By rejecting the Annan plan in 2004 and looping in the EU, the Greek Cypriot leadership sought to overpower the local conflict by linking it to the bigger and more complex issue of the EU expansion. More than a decade later, the Greek Cypriots made it bigger still by distributing drilling rights to French and other Western petroleum companies while shutting out the Turks.

Now the local conflict in Cyprus is coming back on a regional scale. Turning the conflict between Greek and Turkish Cypriots into a regional problem has only made the Cyprus conflict deeper and harder to solve. Note that since the breakdown of Crans Montana communal talks in 2017, there has not been any serious engagement between the Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Instead, we have had a looming regional conflict. President Nikos Anastasiades of Cyprus has done his utmost to make the Cyprus conflict part of Middle Eastern power rivalries as well, most notably by forming a Cairo-based anti-Turkish alliance in the eastern Mediterranean.

Now that Turkish Cypriots are about to elect their fifth president, it is time to refocus on negotiations. This is the only way, not only to end the conflict on the island but to dampen tensions in the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Three years without engagement has left Turkish Cypriots to lose hope that they will ever be accepted as a politically equal partners by the Greek Cypriots and made them look their own creative, out of the box solutions to the impasse.

In the North, who is going to be elected is not important, as Cihan Dizdaroğlu has written in an İstanPol paper very recently, negotiation is a two-player game. It is the right time for the EU to enter the debate with a Schuman Plan for the island, if you ask me. That would be a real game-changer.

The road to normalization in the eastern Mediterranean still runs through Cyprus, and the EU could realize the promise of a “Geopolitical Commission” with it.

This commentary was published in Hürriyet Daily News on 17.10.2020

Originally published at https://www.tepav.org.tr.

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