Cartoon first published in POLITICO Europe, Belgium, January 12, 2017 | By Rytis Daukantas
By Alpbuğra Bahadır Gültekin*
Chances of settlement in Cyprus increasing
Parties and guarantors (Turkey, Greece and United Kingdom) met in Geneva on January 12th to discuss the most critical chapters of security and guarantees for the first time.
Parties exchanged ideas and conveyed their demands to one another.
The press statement of Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu briefly outlined Turkey’s demands as:
– Guarantees will remain.
– The agreement will be the primary law of the European Union (EU).
– Citizens of Turkey will be granted the same rights (four freedoms) as EU citizens in Cyprus.
Looking closer at controversial “guarantees” concept…
Abolishing guarantees seems unacceptable for Turkish Cypriots. It’s in fact imperative for the resiliency and permanency of the future constitutional order and for the security concerns of the Turkish Cypriot side, that the guarantees remain intact.
However, there’s no denying that the anachronistic measures in place since 1960s are now outdated and new alternatives are very necessary for the guarantees chapter.
A new system needs to be established, therefore, one which ensures peace on the island. A system which will enable the Turkish Cypriot community to feel safe and eliminate feelings of anxiety and disadvantage in the Greek Cypriot community.
This time there is a good chance a consensus may be reached as Cypriot leaders Nikos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akıncı together gave the go ahead for the “transitional period”, even though the guarantors have the final say.
The second clause demands that: “The agreement will be in primary law of the EU.”
If decades-old negotiations are successful, the primary law issue which Turkish Cypriot side regards as a sine qua non, will carry a legal measure to protect the possible deal.
If an agreement is reached this must not be subject to any corrosion on grounds of EU laws afterwards. If an agreement which is accepted by both sides recognises the qualification as domestic law, then it may be changed or face annulment in the future on the grounds that it is contrary to EU law.
This in itself threatens even the principle of ‘bizonality’ which is one of the UN parametres.
Therefore, in this respect, Turkey’s primary law demand appears suitable for most of the Turkish Cypriots.
However, without doubt the most striking part in the statement of Turkish FM Çavuşoğlu is the demand for ‘four freedoms’ (free movement, settlement, establishment of business and property right) for citizens of Turkey.
Yesterday, a similar statement came from Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım on the same topic.
Unreasonable and excessive demand
Turkey’s four freedom insistence for Turkish citizens is both irrelevant and an inordinate desire which seriously jeopardises the prospect of a solution.
If we study the reasons…
Turkish citizens who have settled in northern Cyprus after 1974 and received ‘TRNC’ citizenship (about 50.000 people), have been given the right to become both United Cyprus and European Union citizens in the case of a settlement.
Moreover, Turkish citizens who are in higher education at universities in Northern Cyprus, (about 47.000 people), will be able to continue their studies with valid student visas like anywhere else in the world.
In addition to this, Turkish citizens in employment or business owners in Northern Cyprus (about 40.000 people), will be able to continue their lives with a valid work permits.
So, in light of all the leeway given to Turkish citizens, what is the purpose of demanding four freedoms under the ‘guarantees’ headline?
Maximalist demands of this nature create increased anxiety for both Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot sides during highly sensitive security talks, instead of minimising and eliminating mutual security concerns
Allowing an unregulated and uncontrolled flow of a population of 80 million to a small island would create intractable results in terms of security, economy and peace.
With this demand it seems Turkey has three aims:
The most optimistic possibility is using that clause as leverage to be used at a later point during the negotiations in days to come and gaining traction in other chapters that are important, with this point.
The second possibility is to secure direct and indirect control over the United Cyprus in a possible settlement.
Given the size of the Turkish population who may be legally and illegally settled on the island, it is clear Turkey could easily realise this goal with political, social, economic and cultural instruments.
Although unrealistic when compared to the first two possibilities, another possibility is to morph the “four freedom” clause to the visa liberation topic, which resurfaced after the EU-Turkey refugee agreement, but could still not go beyond a discussion.
The epic rhetoric of some high-ranking Turkish officials such as “are we going to enter to half-century-old Turkish land that was watered with martyr’s blood” can command responses in society, so it wouldn’t be wrong to anticipate it as a move to align domestic politics.
In actual fact if Turkey really wants her citizens to benefit from the four freedoms, she should adopt some of the outstanding democratic chapters of the European Union to deserve EU membership.
These Cyprus talks have been going on for almost 50 years and it’s imperative that all sides take constructive and conciliatory steps to reach a final conclusion for once and for all, as the parties describe the current attempt as the “last chance.”
The future of the Turkish Cypriot community should not be jeopardised and shouldn’t be aligned solely with the internal political interests and ambitions of Turkey.
Should the negotiations fail in this context, Turkey will surely be seen as deal-breaker.
And ultimately if the future of Turkish Cypriots is risked and gambled away the losses will be dire. Citizens of Turkey both directly and indirectly will too be affected in one way or another.
* Alpbuğra Bahadir Gultekin is a Turkish Cypriot journalist based in Istanbul. He has several publications regarding the legal status of Anatolian Turks in northern Cyprus.