Wednesday, 20 August 2014

"Absence of a mutually hurting stalemate" makes it hard for Greek Cypriots to share power with Turkish Cypriots

Turkish Cypriot Negotiator Kudret Özersay (left) with chair Dr James Ker-Lindsay at the LSE

Addressing a small, but packed lecture theatre at the London School of Economic on 9 June 2014, Kudret Özersay started his 1.5 hour talk by explaining the state of affairs when he left the talks two years ago. At that time, he said “the people, the process, all possible negotiation methods and arrangements were exhausted”.

The latest round of talks to resolve the 50-year-old Cyprus Problem date back to negotiations that first started between the then Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus President, Mehmet Ali Talat, and Republic of Cyprus President Demetris Christofias in 2008. Talat’s successor, Derviş Eroğlu tried to continue, but these broke off in 2013 when newly-elected Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades prioritised the restructuring of the collapsed South Cyprus economy. 

The talks between the two Cypriot leaders resumed at the start of 2014. Their aim remains the same: to realise a bi-communal, bi-zonal federal solution.

Özersay is fully aware of the “difficulties, obstacles and problems” associated with this latest effort. But he also has expectations of progress, otherwise, he says, he would resign again.

 "The Joint Statement established the framework for a future united Cyprus, but there was no roadmap.” 

He stated that, “The joint statement by the two leaders [in February 2014] established the framework for this process, demonstrating a common, shared objective for a future united Cyprus, but there was no roadmap.”

That said, following the joint declaration, a major development for the Turkish Cypriot side was to send a delegation to Athens and have direct talks with this Guarantor power: the first in 50 years. Özersay claims this helped to shift negative perceptions on both sides. A similarly positive exchange was experienced by his counterpart, Andreas Mavroyannis, who visited Ankara.

He explained the first part of the latest talks was the Screening Period: this reviewed the demands and positions from the 2008 period in today’s context. This exchange has concluded and the two sides had moved to the Substantive Process, where proposals, counter-proposals and bridging proposals are laid on the table. The aim here is to try and narrow the gap between the two sides.

Özersay highlighted examples of previous convergences which were again agreed upon, such as the federal legislature, elections, decision-making and what happens if there is a political deadlock. Similarly, there was agreement over the role of the federal judiciary, police and bank, although not over how to appoint judges. There is also broad agreement over Cyprus’ permanent office in Brussels and how both communities will be represented in the European Union.

Where disagreements arose was over the EU derogations: where Cyprus could deviate from EU laws due to the nature of its political settlement. These could include restrictions on where Cypriots settle on the island as part of the bi-zonality of the agreement. The questions arose were such derogations permanent or temporary, and would they form part of EU Primary or Secondary Law?

There were also discussions on international treaties governing Cyprus. There were broad convergences on how these will carry forward into a new united Cyprus.

However, there have been some unexpected challenges. The February joint statement said the process would resume from where the last set of talks had been left, and that the focus should be on “outstanding issues”. However, there have been statements and efforts to deviate from this, with South Cyprus seeking to review issues already resolved or wanting to put the spotlight on more complex issues that the Turkish side were best left until the end of the negotiations.

Turkish Cypriots, fearful of territories being ceded to Greek Cypriots, won't bury relatives in own villages, opting instead for distant cemeteries in areas ‘guaranteed’ to remain Turkish

One such area is property. Regarded as “collateral damage”, trying to spell out which areas will be retained by each side and which change hands too early in the process Özersay argued could harm the talks by creating grave concerns for the affected citizens. Similarly, trying to tackle citizenship – who will and won’t be a citizen in the new united Cyprus – is difficult, and are hard to regulate at such an early stage. He added that “as life cannot be frozen on either side”, these issues are best dealt with near the end of the process.

He gave an example of how such political concerns about the negotiations affect everyday life in the North. Those Turkish Cypriots fearful of their territories being ceded to the Greek Cypriot side are unwilling to bury their relatives within their own villages. Instead, they opt to bury them in distant cemeteries, in areas that are ‘guaranteed’ to remain in Turkish hands.

He emphasised that the absence of a roadmap was making it difficult to “negotiate more meaningfully”, as they would not easily bring together all the remaining elements and help them be fixed into a settlement. This missing link meant they “lacked structure to help the negotiations”.

He added that “It is not enough to go through matters technically: we must also consider them in their political context.”

"Absence of a mutually hurting stalemate" makes it hard for Greek Cypriots to share power and prosperity with Turkish Cypriots

Back in 2004, following the Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly rejecting the federal solution outlined in the Annan Plan, a United Nations report stated they were: “not ready to share power and prosperity with the Turkish Cypriots.” Özersay puts this down to the, “absence of a mutually hurting stalemate.”

While there is hurt on both sides, especially for refugees who have been displaced or those who are lost family members through the conflict, he said when one views the situation from a Greek Cypriot lens it was clear why they resisted change. They are the ones ‘recognised as representing the whole island, are a full member of the EU and are currently free to explore and exploit hydrocarbons without a solution.’

How can this situation be addressed? Özersay doesn’t advocate sanctions against Greek Cypriots, but said there are important lessons to be learnt. In 2004, Cyprus’ entry into the EU was a major missed opportunity. Ten years on, there is a parallel situation with the discovery of hydrocarbons. Yet, if mishandled, they could turn into a major obstacle instead.

Lessons need to be learnt from Cyprus' EU entry ten years ago, ensuring hydrocarbons help, not hinder a Cyprus solution

Özersay claimed that if, like EU entry, Greek Cypriots are allowed by the international community to unilaterally exploit this natural resource that is agreed internationally to belong to both communities, without either the prior express consent of Turkish Cypriots or before a comprehensive settlement is found, then hydrocarbons will not help, but hinder a political solution in Cyprus.

He argued that the world needed to ensure the use by South Cyprus of hydrocarbons was conditional on either them securing the consent of Turkish Cypriots or on finding a comprehensive settlement.

He claimed it is this “type of co-operation that will feed into mutually beneficial opportunities”. He pointed out that in a time of crisis, this had already occurred, reminding the audience that when there was a massive explosion at the Vassilikou power station in South Cyprus resulting in the loss of electricity, the Greek Cypriot authority bought gas from North Cyprus via the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce.

Özersay noted that by and large, the public on both sides of the island seemed to be losing hope of a united Cyprus being realised in the near future. Most believe the status quo will continue, so he believes it is even more important to move away from abstract projections and demonstrate the willingness to co-operate and create interdependency.

He added that certain actors on and off them island currently benefit from the status quo of Cyprus remaining a divided island. It said the international community can act, individually if necessary, to help break the deadlock and bring about positive changes.

Hear the full talk at the LSE here: Kudret Özersay LSE podcast

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