During the run up to last Sunday’s elections it had been repeatedly reported that efforts to address the Cyprus problem would be relaunched. The first statements from the international community this week testify this. There are, of course, good reasons to do so. It is not only for the sake of the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots. There are additional important issues at stake: the Cyprus problem has also become a thorny issue between the EU and Turkey and between the EU, Turkey and NATO.
At the outset there are three points that should be taken into consideration: First, the change of government in Nicosia should not be seen as an indication that people have changed their mind in relation to the substance of their NO vote in April 2004. The desire for a solution has always been there but still the mainstream view is that the UN plan was an extremely imbalanced plan. Indeed, President Papadopoulos lost the elections not because public opinion disagreed with his positions on the substance of the Cyprus problem but because of his administration’s excesses and omissions on various issues. Party patriotism also played a role in the outcome of the elections. Furthermore, President elect Demetris Christofias has stated that the solution should be based on European and international law. Within this framework he has expressed his support for a unified Cyprus and for the right of all refugees to return to their homes and properties.
Second, it is unlikely that Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot leadership will change their policy over Cyprus because there has been a government change in the Republic of Cyprus. So contrary to expectations for a breakthrough in the immediate short run it remains to be seen whether this will in fact take place.
The third point is that there should be some rethinking in relation to the methodology pursued for years in addressing the Cyprus problem. More specifically, although the Cyprus problem entails a bicommunal dimension the international aspect remains crucial albeit underestimated. In one way or another Turkey must reconsider its stance and adopt a more constructive approach toward Cyprus. This will prove its sincerity towards the EU while at the same time its own interests will be served. After all, the Republic of Cyprus is a member of the EU, the Union that Turkey aspires to join.
The important element is that with a new government in Nicosia there will be a fresh start. And it will be difficult for the Turkish Cypriots, Turkey and the international community not to accept the commitment of the new President for a solution to the Cyprus problem. Cyprus must be given the opportunity to explain its positions anew. Perhaps, it may also be time to consider a set of Confidence Building Measures which will help to change the psychology on the ground. Tangible benefits for both sides would give the opportunity to gain time and also discuss further the detailed aspects of the Cyprus problem under new and more hopeful circumstances.