|A barrier along the Green Line in Nicosia, the last divided capital of Europe.|
By MICHAEL MOLLER
April 2 2013
It has often been said that Cyprus never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity. This maxim was being bandied about especially after the negative Greek Cypriot vote on reunification in 2004. Life was good in their south of the island then and there was no apparent cost to sticking with the status quo.
A new reality has now imposed itself on the Greek Cypriots. The situation is dire and the immediate future does not look encouraging unless imaginative solutions are found. I firmly believe those solutions are now within reach.
Here’s why. Economic and social conditions in the Turkish-controlled north are improving, creating a more level playing field between the two sides. Turkey is now an increasingly important player both regionally and internationally, and a major anchor of stability in a turbulent region.
The ties between Turkey and Greece are now closer and friendlier, changing the framework within which the Cyprus problem has traditionally been viewed.
Greece’s economic woes have changed its priorities. Its orientation is firmly anchored in Europe, and it is a steadfast supporter of Turkish accession to the European Union. At the same time, the high price Cyprus is now paying for its past symbiotic financial relationship with Greece may affect their future relationship.
These new realities — good and bad — offer an opportunity to move forward on the long-sought solution for Cyprus.
Five years ago, the Cyprus center of the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) published some startling assertions on the monetary benefits that would come within the first year of reunification. PRIO’s conservative estimate was that every Cypriot family would get an extra €2,500 per year.
While the context has changed, the conclusion that reunification would bring increased prosperity would probably be similar today.
The new Greek Cypriot president, with his solid pro-unification credentials, is well placed to propose bold measures toward a unified island with a greater common prosperity. And the Turkish Cypriot leadership is now in a stronger position than ever to negotiate a solution on more equal terms.
Turkey’s European aspirations can no longer be denied. But part of that road goes through Cyprus, and the sooner that problem is solved, the sooner Turkey can be welcomed as a full member of a stronger and more integrated Europe.
The European Union can no longer afford to consider Cyprus an irritating peripheral problem. Cyprus is part of Europe and as such, especially now, very much a European problem.
It is time for a solid, united and active European policy and commitment to the reunification of the island based on a clear and shared conviction that it is in everyone’s vital interest.
If not, we are looking at another bailout down the road and the risk of triggering further catastrophic consequences for the integrity of the European construct.
However the fate of the European Union plays out, there are undeniable benefits in ensuring strong partnerships within the southern Mediterranean basin. The different economies and security, energy, water and other needs can only be strengthened through closer union.
The United Nations has been a steady presence in the daily lives of Cypriots for almost 50 years. But it too must take heed of the new realities and realign its strategies.
Cyprus has plenty of assets — geographical location, natural resources, a well-educated populations, infrastructure and now, once again in its long and tortured history, the attention of the international community.
It is time to put them to good use.
Michael Moller is a former United Nations special representative for Cyprus.