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A glimmer of hope

AFTER years of foot-dragging by Greek-Cypriot leaders, who have been keener to block Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union than to end the island’s 40-year division, new talks on reunifying Cyprus are to start. Unlike his predecessors, President Nicos Anastasiades wants a deal with Dervis Eroglu, his Turkish-Cypriot counterpart. According to a “road-map” put forward by the two men when they met on the UN’s “green line” on February 11th, the two communities would unite under a confederation but run their affairs as “constituent states”.


So far, so good. But can tricky issues like property and security, which have sunk previous talks, be resolved this time? It helps that the Americans are involved; they have prodded officials in Ankara and Nicosia to back the new proposal. The talks will be held as usual under UN sponsorship. For the first time the two leaders insist that they want to see results and aim to reach a deal “as soon as possible”.

Recent discoveries of gas in the eastern Mediterranean could be a catalyst for building an energy partnership that would include Turkey, say the Americans. The simplest way of getting the gas to energy-hungry Europe would be through a pipeline to Turkey. (A Greek-Cypriot plan to build a gas terminal on Cyprus and an undersea pipeline to Crete, Greece and Italy, is seen as expensive and impracticable.) Three-way co-operation could also reduce instability in a fractious region.


The road-map is already known in Nicosia as the “Obama plan”—a nod to the Annan plan, named after the UN secretary-general, Kofi Annan, which was rejected by Greek-Cypriots just days before Cyprus joined the European Union in 2004. That meant the Turkish-Cypriots were excluded from the benefits of membership, even though they had backed the plan in a separate vote. Mr Anastasiades, leader of the conservative Democratic Rally party, was the only heavyweight Greek-Cypriot politician to back the Annan plan. This time he has Akel, Cyprus’s communists, on his side. Together, the two parties could win a referendum on the Obama plan.


Cyprus is still reeling from last year’s bank collapse in which many depositors lost big chunks of their savings. Capital controls remain in place under the terms of a €10 billion bail-out by the EU and IMF, putting a squeeze on business. GDP shrank by 6% in 2013 and unemployment is at a record 17%. Reunification should speed recovery and promote faster growth. Yet the mood remains cautious: after all, this is the fifth or sixth round of talks. One Nicosia businessman recalls the words of a British diplomat, David Hannay: “Nobody ever lost money betting against a Cyprus solution.”

The Economist

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