Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides at a meeting with the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, in Nicosia on March 5, 2021 (Photo: PIO)

EU needs to take its seat at the Cyprus negotiation table

5 mins read
  • The long history of negotiations on the Cyprus question has been unforgiving to its actors, hence the infamous characterisation of it as the “graveyard of diplomats”, littered with tombstones. It need not be this way.


By Nikos Christodoulides

Cyprus’s membership in the European Union, and the European Union’s ability to bring its prowess, expertise, and competencies to bear, has shown to be game-changing. Cyprus does not need more martyred diplomats.

The EU needs to take its seat at the table to break the graveyard metaphor and establish a clear path to resolution and peace on its own soil.

As a historian by training, and diplomat in my previous professional life, I am well aware that the course of history, the storyline of the historical narrative, is by no means written in stone. It is a dynamic process that responds to evolving situations, which can reverse the narrative and provide solutions previously elusive or unimaginable.

As a historian focusing in particular on the history of negotiations of the Cyprus Problem, I am also well aware that ever since efforts for a solution started, a persistent thread in the storyline dominates: plans dictated by external – regional and international – factors, actors with selfish motives who aim to maintain hegemony, rather than by factors pertaining in good faith to Cyprus and its people.

Recent history gives us reason to think differently. Renewed efforts are currently underway by the UN Secretary General to resume the 2017 negotiations for a comprehensive settlement of a bizonal bicommunal federation, as provided for in the relevant UN Security Council resolutions.

The previous round of negotiations in 2017 in Crans Montana made major breakthroughs, but ultimately stumbled over Turkey’s unwillingness to back words by actions, insisting on anachronistic positions that have no place in 21st century international relations and modern states, such as permanent military presence and a system of guarantees.

As we gear towards the 5+1 UN informal meeting in Geneva convened by the UN Secretary General on 27-29 April, it is important to highlight a key factor in the substantial progress achieved in the previous round of negotiations: for the first time the EU actively participated in the negotiations, present not only at a political level in Crans Montana, but also throughout the negotiating process leading to Crans Montana with continuous technocratic support in all areas.

Our side was cognizant that EU participation was essential, not least because the experience of the negotiation to accede to the EU taught us that the EU offers solutions. An experienced EU law expert was appointed by the then President of the European Commission to physically sit at the negotiating table, while experts from Brussels provided expertise on a wide range of issues pertaining to the various aspects under negotiation. EU diplomacy proved effective, resilient, and solution oriented.

EU is an internal actor

It is critical to understand that the EU is an internal actor, and as such the EU must have a seat at the negotiating table this time as well. Given Cyprus’s status as an EU member state, it should be self-explanatory why that is the case, and yet there is resistance by some of the stakeholders, Turkey and others. Let us consider some of the core reasons that dictate EU participation is a sine qua non for successful negotiations.

Cyprus, in its entirety, joined the EU in 2004, with the acquis temporarily suspended pending reunification in the areas where the Government cannot exercise effective control due to Turkish occupation. At that moment the Cyprus Problem became a European Problem. For the first time a factor inherent to Cyprus and its people – rather than external – had a decisive effect in the efforts to reach a comprehensive settlement. Not only can this factor not be ignored, but rather it should be embraced and leveraged at the negotiating table as an instrument for all sides.

Cyprus is an EU member state and will remain an EU member state following reunification. As such a solution to the Cyprus Problem must comply with the EU acquis, values, and principles because reunited Cyprus must be a viable, functional member state of the EU. It is not a secret that decision making in a Union of 27 member states is a complex, arduous, often frustrating process.

Cyprus’ post reunification must be a functional member state that can facilitate rather than complicate further EU decision making. Functionality is something Cypriots, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots should strive for. The EU and all its member states have a clear stake in finding a functional solution that is acquis compliant, and the stakes are high.

The EU must have a seat at the negotiating table under UN auspices, also because it proved in the previous round of negotiations that its role is valuable in bridging gaps, and doing so in a way that is compliant with EU law and that ensures functionality.

From the thorny property issue, to constitutional aspects of the solution, EU law, values and principles as enshrined in the Treaties provided a pool of tools that brought us closer to a solution. The EU also made it clear that the best security for an EU member state is the EU itself; it would be unfathomable to imagine that security of one of the component parts of the EU is put in the hands of a third country.

This new effort by the UNSG coincides with Turkey’s declared wish to mend relations with the EU, which were shaken as a result of Turkey’s illegal activities and policy of provocation against member states of the EU, including Cyprus, as well as its role regionally where it is not acting as a partner to the EU, actively undermining EU interests.

While we are yet to see sustained de-escalation by Turkey – both in the sea, and on the ground, including with regards to Varoshia – Turkey is pressing for a positive agenda with the EU. If Turkey’s rhetoric on its wish to mend relations with the EU is to be taken seriously, it would be contradictory for Turkey to insist on its position not to have the EU participating in the negotiations under UN auspices. How can Turkey insist on a positive agenda with the EU but object to the EU’s participation in the current effort for resumption of negotiations for a solution to the Cyprus Problem?

It is an irrefutable fact that EU-Turkey relations are inextricably linked to the Cyprus Problem. It is expressly stated in Turkey’s 2005 Negotiating Framework, which calls for Turkey to contribute concretely to negotiations for a comprehensive settlement in line with UNSCRs, and this obligation has been repeatedly reiterated by the EU.

From an EU-Turkey customs union, to accession negotiations, to visa liberalization – the Cyprus Problem is a common denominator that holds the key to unlocking these processes. It is the key to EU-Turkey relations and the sooner all actors recognize it the sooner EU-Turkey relations will be able to reach their full potential.

A comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem on the agreed basis, in line with UN Security Council resolutions and EU law, void of anachronisms that have no place in modern states and in EU member states, would have a positive ripple effect to the region, which is in dire need of a success story, as well to EU-Turkey relations.

The EU’s participation could be catalytic in reaching the end goal of reunification, proving that it is a peace-project that can still bring about peace within its own family and beyond.


Nikos Christodoulides is the Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus