In defence of the Federal Republic of Cyprus

20 September 2016 04:39
In defence of the Federal Republic of Cyprus

I suggest Federal Republic of Cyprus as the official name for Cyprus after a settlement because it preserves the RoC and at the same time describes the new state of affairs.

In matters of great importance style is sometimes more important even than content.

For this reason, words like bizonal and bicommunal are best defined in the preamble or in the interpretation section of the law of the constitution rather than part of the formal name of Cyprus.

I don’t want to jinx the talks by anticipating a solution as a foregone conclusion. As last Wednesday’s terse joint statement on the progress in the Cyprus talks shows, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for Cypriots to agree about the Cyprus problem.

But do not despair because when Christ said ‘it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God’ he was talking metaphorically about a small gate in old Jerusalem called ‘the eye of a needle’ through which it was difficult for a camel to pass. He was not talking about an actual needle through which it is impossible for a camel to pass.

Indeed, it looks as though the camel will negotiate the gate this time.

People are tired of the Cyprus problem. It has gone on far too long and a blueprint is now on the cards.

My task is to help bury the Cyprus problem and embrace the broad principles behind a federal solution that is now in prospect.

No one wants to drag the Cypriots kicking and screaming to a federal solution. There will be referendums in accordance with undertakings given to the EU before Cyprus joined, but this time on a blueprint agreed and supported by the political leadership.

In other words, the people will make a well-informed choice under the best possible circumstances. This is what Glafcos Clerides promised the EU as president before Cyprus joined the EU. We owe it to his memory and to our self-respect as a country to honour his solemn undertaking, and if there is one person who genuinely desires to honour the memory of Glafcos Clerides it is his friend and protege, the present incumbent Nicos Anastasiades. Not for nothing is his name connected with rebirth and resurrection!

The rejectionists on both sides will have their say, and if they have a better alternative to federation we wait with bated breath to hear what it is. The fact is that whatever alternative they have in mind, it does not involve solving the Cyprus problem in the sense of getting the two sides to agree a new state of affairs. It can only be either to stay as we are indefinitely, or to cut the Gordian knot.

Therein lies the rub. I suggest that only a federal solution is capable of being an agreed solution to the Cyprus problem.

The arguments of the rejectionists must be exposed as at best non-existent and at worst bogus and self-serving.

We will take no lessons in patriotism from any of them.

The moral challenge they face is simple: If you love your country you solve its problems. You do not prolong them to suit your ambition. That is treating your country as a means to suit your ends and is fundamentally immoral.

Just as in Jungian dream analysis the Cyprus problem happens at different levels.

At its most basic level the Cyprus problem is the breakdown of the 1960 independence power sharing agreements and the consequences of that breakdown culminating in the displacement of Greek Cypriot refugees to south Cyprus and Turkish Cypriot refugees to north Cyprus during the 1974 war.


The nature of the solution

On that analysis of the problem, solving it involves devising a new system of power sharing and dealing fairly and justly with the displacement of the people taking into account the compelling circumstances in which they became refugees.

I suggest that a federation within the EU that is itself a federal union is the dream solution. It satisfies most of the basic of aspirations of the two sides with finesse, balance and alluring complexity.

I emphasise that what gives a federal solution its alluring complexity is that it will be a federation within another federation of the most politically advanced group of nations in world history whose civilised laws will be supreme in the Federal Republic and whose raison d’etre is an ever closer union and whose fundamental creed is political equality, freedom of movement and upholding human rights.

But the Cyprus problem is more than just a political problem. It is also an emotional problem that damages the emotional and psychological well-being of the people. It is bad for the soul because it damages people as human beings. The problem fills people with fear and anger and loathing. It makes them racist and hatefully nationalist. If proof were needed look at the black shirts in our streets. It has made politicians arrogant and hubristic. It has made them corrupt and avaricious as well as incompetent and irresponsible. They have wined and dined on the Cyprus problem long enough.

In this broad sense the Cyprus problem is as malign and insidious as it is all pervasive and ubiquitous. Few of us can remember a time without the Cyprus problem. It follows us where ever we go. It lurks behind every aspect of our lives. It dominates our soul and our existence from the cradle to the grave. It dominates church, mosque and state. It dominates conversation, comment, the news, social media and what passes for art and culture. It is like a cancer eating away our body and our soul.

There is no joy left in Cyprus. Life goes on and people pretend everything is normal and even enjoy themselves, but it is like the Paris during the last war. Fun without joy. Life without hope. The Cyprus problem has arrested our development as civilised tolerant generous human beings, despite our better nature.

Paisley’s Choice

Dr Ian Paisley who made a dramatic volte face in the Northern Ireland peace process

Dr Ian Paisley who made a dramatic volte face in the Northern Ireland peace process

On the occasion of changing his mind and agreeing to solve the Northern Ireland problem the late Dr Ian Paisley, Northern Ireland’s rejectionist firebrand Protestant leader – of ‘Never, never, never’ notoriety – explained his astonishing volte face by quoting the following passage from wise old King Solomon:

“to everything there is a season…a time to kill and a time to heal…a time to tear down and a time to build…a time to be silent and a time to speak… [a time to move clocks backwards and a time to move them forward], a time to hate and a time to love… a time for war and a time for peace.”

My friends: “The die is cast in Cyprus: there are two main ethnic and linguistic groups; each is too strong and too deeply rooted in the past, too firmly bound to a motherland culture, to be able to engulf the other. But if the two will collaborate at the hub of a truly pluralistic state, Cyprus could become the envied seat of a form of federalism that belongs to tomorrow’s world.”

That was Pierre Trudeau the former prime minister of Canada, a passionate believer in federalism, talking about Canada but every word applies to Cyprus. His son Justin Trudeau is now the prime minister. As his name suggests Pierre Trudeau was French Canadian although I think his mother was English.

 The former prime minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau

The former prime minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau

I suggest a federal Cyprus with the EU in an ever closer union is the only show in town. The question is how to persuade voters of this.

An English appeal judge once told me privately: “The art of great advocacy Alper dear boy is not just to devise imaginative arguments. It is to persuade us to accept them; and the best way of doing that is to give us enough to reach the conclusion you want ourselves.”

That probably works with judges but with the public the incidents and benefits of a solution must be spelt out and the dangers of not solving the problem analysed clearly and responsibly.

The EU itself is on a federal path and can serve as a model with power and expertise ready to assist the Federal Republic once it is up and running. I looked at the EU Constitutional Treaty recently and it is an instructive document on federalism. Unfortunately, it was rejected by the peoples of France and Holland but the ideas behind it are already part of the rich tapestry of the European legal order.

The EU legal order is the most civilised system of government in the world apart from the US constitution. It is already federal and aspires to become more and more federal under the principle of ever closer union. The preamble to the EU Treaty provides that the political objective of the EU is “to lay the foundations of an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe”.

Now that Britain is leaving and we are back on course for a federal Europe, the time to reunite our small island as a federation within a broader federal Europe could not be more auspicious.

Once the Federal Republic of Cyprus is up and running the fact that we will be part of a larger European family that is itself federalist will be helpful in sorting out inevitable teething problems that our young federation will develop and prevent both sides from making the mistakes of the past.

The principles upon which the EU is based mean that on the one hand political equality, subsidiarity and proportionality are not only accepted but celebrated and encouraged in Europe in preference to majoritarian domination; and on the other the anti-discrimination provisions in favour of EU citizens regarding the rights of freedom of movement provide an ideal framework within which Cyprus can reunite as a federation.

Third, the EU legal order permits the use of transitional safeguards, which are very conducive to compromise.

I suggest that a flexible federation can meet the divergent concerns of both sides and people need to be encouraged to rejoice at the prospect of reuniting under a federal umbrella. Not just to accept it grudgingly but to do so with great enthusiasm.

What then is federal government? As with most great ideas the ancient Greeks were the first to practice federal government. Ancient Greece was never a unitary state but an informal federal conglomerate of city states.

The United States, Germany and Switzerland are the best examples of federal government. Federal government survived a bloody civil war in America in 1861 that lasted four years and cost the lives of half a million Americans but the US survived and thrived and became a superpower.

The absorption of East Germany into Germany is the precedent to follow in Cyprus. Provision for this to happen is contained in Protocol 10 of the Treaty of Accession. In light of Protocol 10 which as it happens was blessed by President Papadopoulos, the question of losing the Republic of Cyprus following a solution cannot arise in law.

 Elam, 'the black shirts on our streets'

Elam, ‘the black shirts on our streets’

According to the late Professor Kenneth Wheare of Oxford University, federal government exists “when the powers of government for a community are divided substantially according to the principle that there is a single independent authority for the whole area in respect of some matters and there are independent regional authorities for other matters, each set of authorities being co-ordinate with and not subordinate to the others within its own prescribed sphere.

“Federal government is appropriate for communities if, at one and the same time, they desire to be united under a single independent general government for some purposes and to be organised as independent regional governments for others.”

The crux is that they must “desire to be united not to be unitary”. So there’s the rub for Cyprus, how to reunite not how to become unitary! The republic of Cyprus cannot turn the clock back to 1960. As the ancients put it ‘you cannot step into the same river twice.’

The rejectionist camp has latched on to the idea that agreeing to a federation would somehow eradicate the status of Cyprus in international law, but as any first year student of international law knows the status of Cyprus in international law is not concerned with internal governance. It is a fundamental principle of federalist law that the union is indestructible.

For a federation to work a number of preconditions need to satisfied. First, the regions must desire to be part of an independent federal government for some things, but at the same time they must also desire to retain independent regional governments for others.

Second, this dual desire must be matched by an ability to operate such multi-dimensional governance. It will therefore be necessary to address the problems in Cyprus in light of her recent history, ethnic and linguistic characteristics and the prevailing social and political institutions. Importantly, we will be assisted by the EU which has a wealth of expertise in multi-dimensional governance.

The factors traditionally associated with a wish to unite under an independent federal government are security, prosperity and similarity in political and social institutions.

For Greek Cypriots security means first the departure of Turkish troops at present in north Cyprus and the return of territory. Secondly, the end of the Treaty of Guarantee by Turkey.

For Turkish Cypriots security lies in the fact that they are now all concentrated in one area rather than interspersed in enclaves throughout the island. In light of this the Turkish side attaches huge importance to remaining the core community in north Cyprus in any federal arrangement.

Economic prosperity

The 2013 crisis in RoC is still fresh in people’s minds and the suspicion that corruption and political incompetence was responsible for the crisis has shaken the confidence of people in the no solution status quo. A federal solution is going to make corruption much more difficult. Political equality with cross-invigilation as its handmaiden, will be far less conducive to favouritism, nepotism, bribery and political corruption than the present state of misuse of power.

At the same time Cyprus will be able to develop and export its gas reserves to the benefit of both communities and Turkey as a conduit country with a stake in the success of the Federal Republic. I do not myself rejoice at the discovery of gas reserves. In my experience it has been a curse in the Middle East. I prefer olive oil. But I do rejoice in the fact that Cyprus’ gas reserves are probably the spur that makes a federal solution attractive to all the key players, including Israel and Turkey.

With the advent of a solution, expenditure will be reduced releasing millions that could then be used to set up a national health service.

The Turkish Cypriots will have access to the EU’s internal market and regional aid programmes that have hitherto not been accessible. The formal introduction of the euro in north Cyprus will be a welcome relief from the recent ups and down of the Turkish lira.

Common political institutions in the shape of the European legal order is going to be introduced in north Cyprus once a solution is in place in accordance with Protocol 10. Besides that, we have the common law and the English language which should be reintroduced as the third formal language of the Federal Republic before the UK leaves so as to preserve it as one of the languages of the EU.

Distribution of resources in a federation are beyond the scope of this talk, suffice it to say that I cannot foresee insuperable problems other than the fact that bigger, wealthier states tend to dominate in federations. There are however checks and balances in most federations that ensure that any imbalances that flow naturally from differences in size and wealth are managed smoothly.

Although Professor Wheare places the desire to remain regionally distinct on a par with the desire to unite at the federal level, in Cyprus where the two regions will comprise two core communities of different ethnicity, language and religion, the desire to remain distinct is not going to be a problem. On the contrary each community has a strong attachment to its ethnicity and religion. Indeed, the problem is that the attachment to motherland culture is too strong.

I believe that motherland culture eventually needs to be diluted to leave room for attachment to the federal republic.

The idea of having an attachment to a local citizenship under an umbrella nationality is not new. At a different level of abstraction citizens of the Republic of Cyprus have it at present. They are citizens of the Republic of Cyprus but they are also citizens of the EU and Commonwealth citizens.

In the case of the US it took a bit of time before a Texan or a Virginian began to feel American but they did eventually, and nowadays most Americans that I know are first and foremost American. The same applies to the Swiss, Australians and Canadians.

Cypriots are distinct from the people of their respective motherlands and have a common attitude to their identity. They are small island people and DNA analyses show that the vast majority of Cypriots are ethnically the same and feel distinct from their respective metropolitan cousins.

According to Professor Wheare the desire to form a federation is crucial but not decisive. The ability to make it work is also required. The most crucial factors apart from the desire to unite itself are common political and social institutions.

Starting with common language, English is so widely spoken and studied in Cyprus in both communities that it can count as a common language. I suggest that if English is reinstated as a third official language the chances of operating a federal system would improve enormously. If people are serious about reuniting Cyprus they must reinstate English as an official language.

Both sides retained the common law of England so there should be no problem in assimilating the legal systems including the structure and procedure in the courts both at the federal and the regional level. Once a federal system is agreed and there is a comprehensive settlement, the European legal order will eventually be applied across the whole island.

This is not the place to go into the impact of EU law on the existence of common political institutions. Suffice it to say that sovereignty in some key areas – such as customs union, competition rules and monetary policy – has already been surrendered to the exclusive competence of the EU.

In areas such as the internal market, social policy, consumer protection, the environment, immigration and asylum, competence is shared with the EU subject to the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality. Moreover, where EU law applies it is supreme and often of direct application under the federal principle of the conferral of powers.

The protection of fundamental rights is guaranteed by the ECHR. It already applies across the whole of Cyprus both in its own right and as part of EU law. As for the EU there is now the European Charter of Fundamental Rights that binds the institutions of the EU.

The end result is that membership of the EU means that a huge amount of policy making about every aspect of people’s lives will automatically apply in both constituent states simply because it emanates from the EU.

The EU will be the source of many of the laws that will apply in the constituent states and, subject to proper democratic accountability, this is conducive to making a federation work smoothly. The EU does not have the power to implement its laws. Under EU law the federal government will be responsible for implementation although the constituent state may be directly involved.

The way the interests of the German Federal States are represented in Europe is a good model to follow. Sometimes they deal directly with the EU and have offices in Brussels for this purpose. So does Scotland even though the UK is theoretically a unitary state.

Creating the right conditions for setting up a federation and making it work above all requires a committed leadership and qualities of statesmanship not seen in Cyprus since the late Glafcos Clerides. The good news is that President Anastasiades was his protege which is why with Mustafa Akinci on the Turkish side there is hope at last. As my hero Martin Luther King would have put it: hope at last!  hope at last!

The future

The most important problem initially is going to be the availability of committed federalists with the expertise to make the federation work. It will be necessary for a cadre of high-flying civil servants from each constituent state to be trained together and develop an esprit de corps who will be totally incorruptible with a total commitment to federalism and the federal government.

It has been 60 years since the Cyprus problem started on April 1, 1955 and it is interesting to imagine what Cyprus would be like 60 years from now if a federation is created and it works for Cyprus. I imagine that there will be demographic changes brought on by international marriages and the freedom of movement provisions of the EU, but the core communities would remain the same.

Greek and Turkish will be a lot more widely spoken by the other community. There will be inter communal political parties and it is not inconceivable that a Turkish Cypriot will have been elected president on a common roll. As I previously wrote, I am in favour of an electoral college rather than a rotating presidency not only because it is more democratic but because it is more likely to yield a yes vote amongst the Greek Cypriots.

The absence of the Cyprus problem will release joy across the island. It will lift the dark cloud of fear and hatred. This will release enormous optimism and with it creative energy.

Cyprus will become more politically mature and the quality of the political class will reflect the new politics. More competent and less corrupt.

An incorruptible federal civil service will be set up purely on merit and federalist commitment with total loyalty to the federation. In other words, the best of European values will have taken root in Cyprus.

The Federal Republic of Cyprus will be a less corrupt, kinder, gentler and more civilised place. I commend it and Schiller’s Ode to Joy in Beethoven’s 9th Symphony as its anthem. It is already the EU anthem and I see nothing wrong for it to double up as the anthem of the Federal Republic of Cyprus too.

Indeed, one verse repeated in Beethoven’s amazing crescendo is apt.

Joy, your magic reunites
those whom stern custom has parted
All men shall be brothers
under your gentle wing

Think of the EU and the federal republic as Schiller’s ‘gentle wing’ under which we can be brothers and sisters again.

Alper Riza is a Queen’s Counsel in the UK and a part-time judge. This article was presented at the Centre of Visual Arts and Research in Nicosia on Friday