It would be an excellent thing to reunite the island of Cyprus after 42 years of heavily armed partition, but it’s probably not going to happen this year.
They’re all meeting in Geneva this week – President Nicos Anastasiades of the Republic of Cyprus and President Mustafa Akinci of the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus, plus the new UN secretary-general, Antonio Guterres, and representatives of all three countries that guarantee Cyprus’s independence, Britain, Turkey and Greece. The talk is all upbeat:
“Best and last chance for peace,” says Guterres. But don’t hold your breath.
There are three reasons why reunification is probably not about to happen, and the first is that Greek-Cypriots simply don’t want it as badly as Turkish-Cypriots. The Greek-Cypriot majority has twice the average income of the Turkish-Cypriot minority, mainly because the Greeks live in a universally recognised country that belongs to the European Union. They can trade and travel everywhere.
The Turkish-Cypriots live in utter isolation, their ramshackle state recognised by no country except Turkey. And although they are a well-educated, secular population, they may already be outnumbered by the ill-educated, socially conservative immigrants who have been flowing in from Turkey. No wonder the Turkish-Cypriots voted two-to-one in favour of reunification in 2004, the last time a peace deal was attempted.
The Greek-Cypriots, by contrast, voted three-to-one against the deal – not because it was really such a bad deal, but because many of them don’t feel much need to compromise. The status quo is quite bearable, and the United Nations troops will be happy to stick around and enforce the ceasefire for another 42 years if necessary. Or so the Greek-Cypriot ‘no’ voters seemed to believe last time.
Then there is the sheer complexity of the negotiations to put the country back together again, but this time as a bi-national federal republic. How will the territory be divided up? (The Turkish-Cypriots currently hold 37 percent, but the maps the two side have tabled give them between 28.2 percent and 29.2 percent.) Will there be a ‘rotating’ presidency, held sometimes by a Greek and sometimes by a Turk?
How many of the refugees who fled during the 1974 war (an estimated 165,000 Greeks and 45,000 Turks) will be allowed to return to their former homes in the “other” part of the island? Will they be allowed to evict the current occupants?
And above all, who will guarantee that both sides will observe the terms of the deal? This is the point at which things fell apart in 1974.
Cyprus got its independence from the British empire as a bi-national republic in 1960. The power-sharing constitution was guaranteed by Britain and by Greece and Turkey, the two “mother countries” of the local populations – but then there was a military coup in Greece.
The Greek military regime conspired with a local Greek-Cypriot terrorist organisation called EOKA B to carry out a bloody coup in Cyprus in 1974 and unite the island with Greece. So the Turkish prime minister flew to London to beg Britain (which has military bases on the island) to carry out its duty as guarantor, stop the carnage and roll back the coup.
When London refused to act, Turkey itself invaded to protect the Turkish-Cypriot minority, and the territorial division it imposed on the island in 1974 has lasted ever since. Getting the right kind of guarantees this time is crucial to a successful deal, but it’s probably not going to happen this year.
The deal itself is ferociously complex, and the fine print certainly cannot be settled this week. With enough good-will on both sides, it could be done in the next few months, but the real obstacle now is Turkish politics.
Nobody knows what Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan really wants in Cyprus. But his one fixed goal is to change the Turkish constitution in order to turn his office into an all-powerful “executive” presidency. Like Putin’s in Russia, for example.
That is politically tricky. It takes 60 percent of the votes in Turkey’s parliament to change the constitution, and on the first reading he barely scraped through. In the final vote, he might lose. And even if Erdogan gets the change through parliament, he must then win a national referendum on the question next autumn.
Since Erdogan restarted his war on the Kurds last year, he has lost the votes of pious Kurdish voters. The only way he can replace them is by winning the votes of right-wing nationalists.
So Erdogan can’t afford to back the Cyprus deal right now. It would alienate Turkish ultra-nationalists who just want to annex northern Cyprus. Maybe next year, after he has total power. But not now.
To shorten to 700 words, omit paragraphs 7 and 15. (“How…occupants”; and “Since…nationalists”)
Early next week (April 4), the deal made between the European Union and Turkey to stem the flood of refugees into the EU goes into effect. It will promptly blow up in everybody’s face, for three reasons.
First problem: the EU won’t be able to “process” the arriving migrants as fast as new ones arrive. Migrants are arriving on the Greek islands of Chios and Lesbos at the rate of almost 2,000 per day, and as the weather improves even larger numbers will attempt the short sea crossing from Turkey.
Up to now the migrants have quickly been moved on to the mainland of Greece, but the Turkish-EU deal means that new arrivals will now pile up on the islands in detention camps while awaiting a decision on their asylum claims. Living conditions will become intolerable and there will be protests, some of them violent.
The EU has authorised a force of 4,000 security and migration officials and translators to register the new arrivals and investigate their claims for asylum. Even if these officials had all arrived on the islands (most haven’t), they wouldn’t be enough. It takes time to interview the claimants, write up the claims, make decisions to accept or reject them, and even allow appeals – and meanwhile another 2,000 will be arriving each day.
Second problem: within one or two weeks the time will come for the first rejected asylum claimants to be sent back to Turkey. Having spent all their money and endured great hardships to get this far, they will not go back willingly. It will require physical force to get some of them on the planes or boats that will take them back – enough force that there will be real casualties.
Third problem: by June, as part of this deal, Turkish citizens will have the right to visa-free travel to the European Union. Around one-fifth of Turkey’s population, some 15-20 million people, are Kurds. Since last summer, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, having broken a two-year ceasefire with the separatists of the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK), has been waging a pitiless war against them in the towns and cities of the southeast.
Some parts of Kurdish-majority cities in Turkey now resemble the war-ravaged cities of Syria. The Kurds, as Turkish citizens, will be able to enter most EU countries not as refugees but as tourists – and it would be very surprising if several million of them do not avail themselves of the opportunity. But the EU’s goal in this deal was to stop the mass migration, not to change it from Syrian Arabs to Turkish Kurds.
In practice, things will never get that far. Long before the EU negotiators agree on the details of visa-free travel for Turkish citizens the deal will collapse – because it will automatically be cancelled if the number of returnees reaches 72,000. That’s slightly more than one month’s worth of migrants at the current rate of supply.
The goal behind this weirdly dysfunctional deal was twofold: to cut the total number of migrants drastically – more than a million made it into the EU last year – and at the same time to end the deaths that happen during the sea crossing: 460 drownings out of the 143,000 who tried to cross so far this year. But it simply will not work.
The only way to really seal a frontier is to kill people who try to cross it illegally. After first few hundred deaths most people get the message and stop trying. (The Iron Curtain worked pretty well, for example.) But the EU isn’t ready to do that yet – so how can it discourage migrants from making the crossing?
What if we ship almost all those who make it to the Greek islands back to Turkey, but promise to take one legitimate Syrian refugee out of the camps in Turkey for every Syrian we send back? The Turks will go along with it if we give them $3.3 billion now, promise them another $3.3 billion later, and allow visa-free travel to the EU for Turkish citizens. The deal is win-win all round. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, there are around two-and-a-half million Syrian refugees in Turkey, and most of them are not even in camps. If they have a good legal claim for asylum, why should they wait in the queue? And if they are not Syrian – Iraqi or Afghan refugees or African migrants – where is their incentive not to get in a boat and try their luck?
To its credit, the EU has not yet deployed the ultimate argument: that refugees are already safe in Turkey, a country that is still technically a democracy with the rule of law, and therefore have no right to go asylum-shopping in greener pastures elsewhere. But after this new deal collapses, it will almost certainly come to that in the end.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 8. (“The EU…day”; and “In practice…supply”)
“Europe has forgotten that history is fundamentally tragic,” said Manuel Valls, the French prime minister. “If Europe can’t protect its own borders, it’s the very idea of Europe that could be thrown into doubt. It could disappear – not Europe itself, not our values, but the European project, the concept we have of Europe, that the founding fathers had of Europe.”
The European Union – 28 countries and 500 million people – is not really going to disappear just because it cannot agree on how to deal with one or two millon refugees. But one of the great symbols of its unity, the Schengen Treaty that allowed its citizens to move around without passports or border checks, is being suspended, perhaps forever.
Schengen doesn’t cover every single EU country. The United Kingdom and Ireland remain outside the Schengen Zone, and Croatia, Romania, Bulgaria and Cyprus, all new EU members, are still waiting to join. Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are part of the Schengen Zone although they are not EU members. But it does include over 400 million people.
It is a remarkable achievement. You could get into your car in Portugal and drive all the way to Finland via Spain, France, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia without ever once having to show a passport or identity card. There would not even be anybody in uniform standing at the frontier to wave you past, just a sign by the side of the road saying “Welcome to (Country X)”.
Or rather, that was the situation until last month, when Germany, Denmark, Sweden and Austria re-imposed passport checks at their borders, ports and airports even for travellers arriving from other Schengen Zone countries. France acted even earlier, declaring emergency controls on its borders after the terrorist massacre in Paris in November. So now fully half of the EU’s citizens (counting the UK and Ireland) live behind real borders again.
The new border controls are alleged to be temporary measures, which the Schengen Treaty permits for a maximum of six months in the face of some unspecified emergency. But the refugee emergency is not going to fade away by next July, and the threat of terrorism will persist for the foreseeable future.
That’s why the European Commission is now examining how the legal framework of Schengen can be fiddled to allow a further two years of controls on the EU’s internal borders. Nobody doubts that they will find a way to do that – but a great many people doubt that the passport-free zone, once suspended for that long, will ever come back.
This is happening not because Germans fear French travellers or Swedes fear Danes. It’s happening because none of them believe that the EXTERNAL borders of the Schengen Zone are properly controlled.
Even in freeezing January weather 35,000 refugees entered the EU last month, and it looks set to be another million-refugee year. And two of the men who carried out the Paris attacks crossed from Turkey to Greece (a Schengen member) as refugees. You can’t call that a secure external frontier
The three countries that took in 90 percent of last year’s refugees, Germany, Austria and Sweden, have all blamed Greece for letting so many refugees in and failing to document them properly. “Greece has one of the biggest navies in Europe,” said the Austrian interior minister, Johana Mikl-Leitner. “It’s a myth that the Greek-Turkish border cannot be protected.”
The Greeks quite reasonably ask what their big navy is supposed to do. Sink the refugee boats? As for the failure to register all the refugees properly, they point out that at peak flow last autumn more than ten thousand were arriving each day. They didn’t have enough officials and equipment to cope with such numbers: forty fingerprint machines running non-stop around the clock can only deal with about 4,000 people a day.
There is even talk of suspending Greece from the Schengen Treaty for two years, but a better solution would be to give it the people and resources needed to document everybody who comes in – and to turn back those who have no right to come in.
It’s not just a question of screening out possible terrorists, although that must be done better if confidence in Schengen is to be restored. In practice, Greece (or EU officials operating in Greece) would also have to decide AT THE BORDER who is really a genuine refugee they are obliged to admit, and who should be returned immediately to Turkey.
The brutal truth is that most of the people crossing from Turkey into Greece, including the Syrians and Afghans who come from war-torn countries, are “asylum-shoppers”. They were already safe in Turkey, which is sheltering almost 2 million Syrian refugees and spending billions of dollars a year on them. But life in the camps in Turkey is hard, so they are moving on to seek asylum in richer countries with better facilities.
There is no obligation for Europe to take them all, and the Schengen Treaty will die if it does. But the European Union itself will soldier on without it, at least until and unless the euro currency collapses when the next recession hits.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 3 and 11. (“Schengen…people”; and “The Greeks…day”)
The sheer dithering cluelessness of the European Union’s leaders, faced with an unexpected surge in the number of migrants seeking refugee status in EU countries, challenges all our previous definitions of incompetence. A new standard has been set.
All of a sudden, in July, the main stream of refugees arriving in Europe switched from the trans-Mediterranean track out of Libya to the Aegean Sea, where the crossing from the Turkish coast to the Greek islands just offshore is less than one-tenth as far. People are drowning on this Aegean route too, but far fewer of them.
They don’t want to stay in Greece, of course – and although Greece is part of the Schengen area, which abolishes border controls between most EU members, it has no common border with any other Schengen member. Migrants wishing to claim refugee status in some richer EU country must therefore trek on up through the Balkans, seeking to reach some other Schengen country like Hungary or Slovenia.
They don’t want to stay in those countries either, but once they are in any Schengen country other than Greece they can travel on freely to their real destinations, usually Germany, Sweden or France. Or at least they could until about two weeks ago. Then the panic started.
Heading up from Greece, the migrants first reached Macedonia (not a Schengen country). It tried to protect its border for a while, then realised they just wanted to cross Macedonia and let them all through. Serbia (also not a Schengen country) did the same – which delivered them to the southern border of Hungary.
Hungary has been building a three-metre-high razor-wire fence along its southern frontier to keep asylum-seekers out, and it used considerable violence against the mostly Syrian refugees at first. But then Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, wearing her Lady Bountiful cloak, announced that Germany would accept as many as wanted to come.
So Hungary opened its border and the refugees surged through, on their way to Austria and thence to Germany. That lasted precisely two days. Then Merkel panicked at the numbers arriving in Germany and “temporarily” closed the border with Austria. So to stop refugees from piling up in Austria, Vienna closed the border with Hungary – and Hungary shut its border with Serbia for the same reason.
Nothing daunted, the refugees stuck on the Hungarian border turned left and headed for Croatia (not a Schengen member). Croatian Prime Minister Zoran Milanovic declared that the government was “entirely ready to receive or direct those people where they want to go, which is obviously Germany or Scandinavian countries.” He knew they really just wanted to cross Croatia to get into Slovenia or Hungary (which ARE Schengen members).
But 24 hours later the Croatian government, shocked by the numbers that were coming, shut its border too. Croatian Interior Minister Ranko Ostojic said his country was “absolutely full” and told the migrants: “Don’t come here any more. Stay in refugee centres in Serbia and Macedonia and Greece. This is not the road to Europe.”
Meanwhile Hungary declared that it was extending its razor-wire fence to cover the border with Croatia as well, and Slovenia began to stop trains coming from Croatia to search for refugees. There will be a summit this week at which EU governments will try to come up with a coherent common policy, but don’t hold your breath while waiting for the good news.
The EU probably will sort it out eventually, because the numbers are not really all that huge. Around 500,000 migrants (most of whom will claim refugee status) have entered the European Union this year, which is only one percent of the EU’s population.
It is not beyond the wit of the EU’s leaders to work out legal ways to send false claimants home, to settle the refugees already in Europe, and to strengthen the EU’s external border controls. Some lasting damage may be done to the EU’s ideals in the process, but for most practical purposes life in Europe will return to normal – for a while.
However, this refugee crisis is only a rehearsal for the main event, which will probably arrive in ten to twenty years’ time. It will be driven by global warming, which will devastate agriculture in the Middle East and North Africa and produce a five- or tenfold increase in the number of refugees heading for Europe.
This is not what MIGHT happen IF the world’s governments don’t make the right deal at the climate summit in Paris in December. This is what almost certainly WILL happen even if they do make the right deal now. A considerable amount of warming is already locked into the system no matter what we do about the climate now – enough to produce that kind of refugee flow in the future.
There is not the slightest sign that EU policy-makers have taken this on board. If they are taken by surprise again, the European Union may collapse. So may several southern European states.
To shorten to 725 words, omit paragraphs 4 and 5. (“They…Hungary”)