Athens – There was recently an agreement to make more intensive the intercommunal talks in Cyprus, following the parliamentary elections in Turkey. Many specialized analysts on Cyprus consider the period after the Turkish elections as a critical and decisive one, since it is expected from the Turkish header Tayip Erdogan to clarify his policies on Cyprus and to make decisions.
Tayip Erdogan did not show on his part till now any flexibility in his approach on Cyprus. On the contrary, he threatened that if will prove impossible to find a solution till next March, Turkey will abandon the intercommunal talks and will pursue the recognition of the so called “ Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” and of the fait accompli.
It is evident that Tayip Erdogan tries to put the blame on the other side for the failure of finding a solution. But the core of the problem is evidently the Turkish occupation and the presence in Cyprus of 40.000 occupation troops.
We asked the well know Giorgos Kentas, Assistant Professor of International Politics and Governance, Program Coordinator (MA in Public Administration), Program Coordinator (European Studies and International Relations),Department European Studies and International Relations University of Nicosia to give us his estimate on the ongoing intercommunal talks and on the main aspects of those talks, which concern the territory and property issue, the problem of guarantees and of the necessary departure of the Turkish occupation troops.
We asked him also to give us his opinion on the acquis communautaire and its full application,in the case of a solution. His answers and comments are very informing and interesting.
Proff Kentas, what is your opinion on the ongoing intercommunal talks and the perspectives for a positive conclusion?
It’s not easy to tell about the outcome of the ongoing talks. Some say that this is a unique moment for the Cyprus Problem. Having Mr. Anastasides in the leadership of the Greek Cypriot community and Mr. Akinci in the leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community makes the perfect duo for an ultimate compromise. There is some rationale behind that optimism. Anastasiades supported the UN Plan in 2004 –a plan that Greek Cypriots ultimately rejected by 76%– and in 2005 he even visited Turkey to meet Mr. Erdogan to talk about Cyprus. Anastasiades is committed to a compromise and he seems willing to make serious concessions to reach a settlement. Akinci is considered a moderate Turkish Cypriot politician who is equally committed to a compromise. On top of that, the recent victory of the AK Party in Turkey and the prevalence of Mr. Erdogan are considered by the optimist as a mark of stability for Cyprus talks.
Some others however see some inherent limitations in the ongoing process. No matter how willing Mr Anastasiades and Mr Akinci are to reach a compromise they have to come to terms with some limitations. The former has to present Greek Cypriots with a package deal that would make them feel secure about such a historic compromise. So far Anastasiades did not come up with something concrete. At the same time, Mr Akinci encounters a skeptic public opinion and he often expresses a hard-line stance over many aspects of the issues under negotiation. On top of that, Mr. Akinci has not much leeway to negotiate beyond the confines of Ankara’s positions on the Cyprus Problem. Mr. Erdogan made that clear to Mr. Akinci on a live TV encounter some months ago.
In that context, one needs not be optimist or pessimist, but rather one may need to be pragmatist and monitor things as they develop.
The special representative on Cyprus of the UN Secretary General Espen Barth Eide expressed much optimism on the perspectives of the intercommunal talks. Do you share his optimism?
The Special Adviser to the Secretary General has no other option but to be on the optimist path. At the same time however one also needs to note that, by taking an optimist stance, Mr. Eide exerts some pressure on the two communities to negotiate in good faith so that they do not bear the blame of the intractable side. On that remark however one needs to note that such a posture may pave the way for a blame game, i.e. by stating optimism without some tangible evidence Mr. Eide raises expectations which may not be factual and in that regard if there is a deadlock third parties would like to know who must be blamed for that. In order to avoid such blame Greek and Turkish Cypriots may be willing to preemptively put the blame on one another.
It always good to express optimism, but Mr. Eide may need to draw some lessons from the long record of UN failures on Cyprus and avoid some mistakes of previous Special Advisers.
There is a tendency of some people to concentrate on the issue of the properties and the guarantees as being the most difficult problems. They consider tacitly that there is no major problem on the constitutional issue, the bizonal federation with political equality. Do you think that this consideration reflects the opinion of the majority of the Greek-Cypriots?
It is true that Greek Cypriots express some special sensitivity over certain issues of the Cyprus Problem. Property issues, security and foreign guarantees, as well as the functionality and viability of an overall settlement, are some of these sensitive issues. I would not say however that other issues do not matter. Issues of governance are equally vexing for Greek Cypriots. For example, Turkish Cypriots consider rotating presidency as a vital element of an agreement. Greek Cypriots do not accept that because they deem it a potential source of instability.
One should also pay attention to other aspects of negotiation that concern Greek Cypriots. For example, although both communities have agreed in principle that the solution to the Cyprus Problem shall be based on a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality, they give quite incommensurable interpretations to that terminology. Turkish Cypriots argue that bi-zonality entails guaranteed majorities in the two constituent states in terms of ethic population and property ownership. Greek Cypriots argue that this is unacceptable because it violates basic principles of EU acquis. Turkish Cypriots suggest that some elements of a settlement should constitute permanent derogations of the EU acquis; Greek Cypriots disagree and they would probably not accept that.
In a nutshell, there are indeed some core issues of concern, but it is an oversimplification to underestimate other issues that may seem secondary. In case of a referendum these issues may prove crucial.
A very controversial issue is the application in Cyprus of the acquis communautaire. It seems that a bizonal federation will clearly violate the acquis communautaire. The Turkish side proposes as a way to bypass the problem, the recognition of the solution as primary law of the European Union. Do you think that the Greek-Cypriots can accept this exception at their expense?
Yes, this is a difficult issue. Let me state that in April 2004 the EU was willing to accept some permanent derogations to the acquis. The terms of these derogations were stated in a Protocol which was attached to the UN Plan. In May 2004 however Cyprus joined the EU and according to the Act of Accession (Protocol 10), the EU acquis is applied allover Cyprus, but is temporarily suspended to the areas where the government of the Republic of Cyprus does not exercise effective control. Ever since, the EU states that it does not intend to accept any permanent derogations to the acquis. On the other hand, if the two communities voluntarily agree on the opposite (i.e. to insert in the political agreement to the Cyprus Problem provisions for permanent derogations to the acquis that will concern Greek Cypriots, Turkish Cypriots and maybe Greek and Turk nationals), EU member states may be willing to accept such a compromise.
At the moment Greek Cypriots express a firm position against any permanent derogations (something which is seconded by the EU and member states) and Turkish Cypriots (seconded by Turkey) support permanent derogations. This is an issue that perplexes negotiations at large.
The core issue of the withdrawal of the occupation troops as well as the problem of international guarantees are not on the negotiating table, since the Turkish side considers those issues that they should be discussed in a conference of the three guarantor powers and the two communities. What is your opinion?
That is true. Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr Akinci, stated clearly that he is not willing to discuss these issues with Mr. Anastasiades, suggesting that they must be negotiated by the guarantor powers (i.e. Turkey, Greece, and the UK), once everything else is settled. Greek Cypriots are not in good terms with that posture. The latter contend that, unless the permanent departure of Turkish occupying force is agreed and the system of security and guarantees of 1960 are thoroughly amended in order to relieve Cyprus from any kind of foreign guardianship, Greek Cypriots cannot make compromises on issues that concern Turkish Cypriots. A give-and-take process entails mutual “give” and mutual “take”; Greek Cypriots are not willing to “give” without “taking”.
This is a crucial issue in the ongoing negotiations. It is important to stress that one of the main reasons that drove Greek Cypriot to a “no” vote in 2004 was the continuation of the state of foreign guardianship, where Turkish troops would be stationed in Cyprus to the eternity and Turkey would maintained a right to unilateral military intervention in Cyprus. A year later, UN acknowledged that the plan put forward in 2004 did not address Greek Cypriot security concerns.
Today both Greece and the UK express a clear intention to terminate their role as guarantor powers. Turkey is insisting on maintaining that role. There is some work on that behind the scenes, but up until now there is no clear evidence for a breakthrough.
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