ROME – The Greek crisis may seem unending, but there are hints that a problem festering in Europe for far longer – the division of Cyprus – may be moving toward resolution. For the first time since 2004, there is a fragile alignment of the political stars over the eastern Mediterranean. As the Middle East continues to unravel and European unity grows increasingly fragile, the opportunity to put an end to the conflict in Cyprus is one that Europe cannot afford to ignore.
There has been little reason for optimism during the decade that has passed since the last serious attempt to overcome the island’s division. The proposal in 2004 by then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan would have united the island by creating a federation of two states. But while Turkish Cypriots embraced the so-called Annan Plan, Greek Cypriots rejected it in a referendum one week before the Republic of Cyprus entered the European Union.
Since then, repeated attempts at relaunching the peace process have ended in failure. Incentives for resolving the conflict rarely emerged, and invariably on only one side or the other, but not both. And, while hope for a solution was dim, the risk of escalation remained low; thus, as security concerns flared up elsewhere, the 40-year-old conflict largely disappeared from the international agenda.
In 2008, there was an attempt to revive the peace effort, after the moderate Demetris Christofias replaced Tassos Papadopoulos as the Greek Cypriot president; but the process soon lost steam. In 2014, the discovery of vast energy reserves in the waters between Cyprus and Israel led some to hope that peace would soon be at hand; but the potential energy bonanza ended up aggravating tensions. Last fall, Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades called a halt to the peace process, citing Turkish brinkmanship over rights to gas exploration.