Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Does Anastasiades’ victory mean a new Annan plan for Cyprus?

A lot of the misgivings about Cyprus’ new president Nikos Anastasiades stem from his support for the Annan plan in 2004 and the assumption that his presidency will see the plan resurrected and imposed on Cyprus.

It’s worth noting, however, that Anastasiades’ support for Annan was never predicated on a belief that the plan was a good and sound basis for a solution to the Cyprus problem, but rather that a Greek Cypriot rejection of the plan would lead to the diplomatic isolation of Cyprus and leave the field open for legitimisation and recognition of the ‘Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus’.

This black view of what would happen if Greek Cypriots turned down Annan has proved wrong. After nine years, the Republic of Cyprus continues to exercise its sovereignty as the sole legitimate representative on the island and Turkey’s attempts to upgrade the status of the occupation regime have largely failed.

The pressure to accept a UN plan at any cost, which Anastasiades believed existed in 2004, does not exist in 2013.

It’s also worth pointing out that to become president, Anastasiades had to seek the backing of two ardently anti-Annan parties, DIKO and EVROKO. Thus, any attempt by Anastasiades to agree to a confederal solution, as envisaged by Annan, would not only see the end of the coalition that secured him the presidency but would also be doomed to fail in any referendum. Indeed, it is inconceivable that Anastasiades would take a plan to a referendum knowing that it had a good chance of being rejected by Greek Cypriots, for whom voting against another UN plan would be a disaster.

Moreover, it is not clear that Turkey is interested in cutting a Cyprus deal at this juncture. Indeed, Turkey’s reasons for wanting a solution to the Cyprus problem in 2004 do not exist in 2013.

In 2004, Turkey’s relatively new Islamist government, elected in 2002, was prepared to countenance a solution as part of its campaign to curtail the Kemalist deep state and minimise the influence of the military in Turkish politics. A deal on Cyprus would have removed an obstacle to prime minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan’s strategy of inching Turkey towards EU membership, which he was interested in not out of any genuine commitment to European standards and values, but because it would be a means to undermine the Kemalist deep state.

Since, subsequently, this battle between the Islamists and the Kemalists/military has largely been won by the former, Cyprus has returned to its traditional role in Turkish politics as a nationalist rallying point, which unites Islamists and Kemalists. Having tested the patience of the Kemalist deep state in so many other areas, there is now no need for Erdogan to provoke it further by making ‘concessions’ on Cyprus that the Kemalists and military – which have always regarded Cyprus as their fiefdom – would consider unacceptable.

Currently, there are only two things that might persuade Turkey to moderate its Cyprus policy and consider a solution. First, there is Cyprus’ continuing ability to block Turkey’s EU membership; and, second, there is Turkey’s inability to stop Cyprus from exploring for hydrocarbons in its Exclusive Economic Zone, which threatens to exclude Turkey from the Eastern Mediterranean gas and oil bonanza (especially if, for example, a pipeline to transfer Cypriot, Israeli and other countries’ gas and oil to Europe bypasses Turkey).

However, since 2004, not only, as noted above, have the internal political reasons that made the EU attractive to Erdogan and his AK party abated, but the Islamists have developed a perception of Turkey as strong enough to do without Europe, which, in any case, they have always regarded as decadent and instinctively hostile to Islam and Turkey. Thus, it is not likely that Turkey will abandon Cyprus for the sake of a club it is not sure it wants to join or that wants to have it as a member.

As for hydrocarbon exploration and transport, Turkey’s tactic at the moment is to bully the Cypriots into suspending their sovereign rights and dispute, both diplomatically and militarily, not only Cyprus’ but also Greece’s territorial waters and EEZ (see here and here). In other words, Turkey’s concern that it might be excluded from Eastern Mediterranean hydrocarbon developments is not encouraging it to seek reconciliation with Greece and Cyprus but to stoke tension and threaten conflict with the two countries. Indeed, as part of this aggressive policy towards Greece and Cyprus, there have even been tentative steps towards a Turkey-Israel reconciliation, with recent reports suggesting that Israel could be detached from its nascent hydrocarbon alliance with Greece and Cyprus (in which Israel’s gas would be transferred to Europe via an LNG plant in Cyprus and/or a pipeline through Crete and the Peloponnese) with the construction of a pipeline to carry Israeli hydrocarbons that would traverse Turkey.

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