Just seven weeks after the election of new Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci, talks to solve the Cyprus problem are moving with full speed into the ‘substantive’ phase of the negotiations.
President Nicos Anastasiades and Akinci signed off on the preparatory phase on Wednesday, in which negotiators Andreas Mavroyiannis and Ozdil Nami worked on establishing a ‘baseline assessment’, which constitutes the groundwork of the next phase.
Reaching a common basis for negotiations, which had proven difficult under the previous Turkish Cypriot leadership, is just one of the more positive developments since the new phase began.
“I have to say the two negotiators did excellent work,” government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides told the Cyprus Weekly.
“It is very important that for the first time we have in front of us the same document, so it will be much easier for the leaders to start substantial negotiations.”
New holistic approach
Another break with the past is that, instead of dealing with one issue at a time, the leaders repeated their pledge on Wednesday to “deal with issues in a holistic and interdependent manner”.
This allows them to focus on issues that are of concern to both communities.
“We have chapters that interest both sides,” said Christodoulides. “And this is a new development. The negotiations in the past always concentrated on issues that interested one side more. This was not an incentive for substantial negotiations.”
The first issues to be tackled are governance, property and aspects of territory.
“It’s very important to come to an agreement on the territorial issue,” said Christodoulides.
Another new aspect of these negotiations is that they are very much led from the top.
“This is a leader-led process. The leaders have the authority and the power to agree on each issue,” said the spokesman. “We are cautiously optimistic that through a substantial and open dialogue we will create those conditions that will allow us to be hopeful for a positive outcome.”
While all those involved are careful to avoid any mention of timetables, the President tweeted on Wednesday that “Our effort is for a solution to be found at the earliest possible”.
Christodoulides said the timing will depend on what happens at the negotiating table.
“We believe that there is will and we want to see this will, and this applies to everybody, at the negotiating table. We hope that will have such a progress that will allow us to reach an agreement as soon as possible.”
Another reason for cautious optimism is the positive chemistry between the two leaders.
“A good climate between the leaders, a working relationship, chemistry between the leaders is a prerequisite for a difficult process. It’s not going to be an easy process… What is important is to have the will to find solutions,” said Christodoulides.
Security to the table
There is also a chance that the thorny issue of security could come to the table soon. Traditionally this has been left until the end of the process.
“It is for the leaders to agree when it will be discussed, but it is one of the most important Chapters of the Cyprus Problem and, of course, it will be discussed in due course. Anastasiades recently gave an interview to a Turkish newspaper in which he said that a modern European state does not need guarantees.
“We believe this is an aspect of the Cyprus problem in which the European Union can play a crucial role, not only for reaching a solution,” said the spokesman.
“Most importantly it’s an issue that concerns the people – and we have to deal with the issues that concern the people, to help implement the solution.”
Asked about the suggestion that Turkey is prepared to be more flexible on guarantees if it has involvement in Eastern Mediterranean gas exploitation, Christodoulides said: “Turkey will not solve the Cyprus problem because its recognises the illegality of the invasion, the continued occupation, or the violations of human rights. Turkey will solve the Cyprus problem if it feels that there is an advantage out of the solution, if there are benefits out of the solution.”
He added that today “we have those factors … including the issue of energy”.
A changing Turkey
UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide said during a speech at the newly established Stelios Foundation this week that “the stars are perfectly well aligned, on the island, in the neighbourhood”.
One star that some worry might be drifting, however, is Turkey, after the election on June 7 failed to give a majority to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). Coalition talks are now ongoing and could end up including parties that have traditionally taken a hard line on the Cyprus problem.
“We follow closely developments in Turkey, it’s something that concerns us… Without any doubt what is going to happen in Turkey will influence the situation regarding the Cyprus problem,” said Christodoulides.
Focus on the win-win
Asked whether there are plans for a common approach to communication with the Turkish Cypriots, Christodoulides said: “It’s one of the issues that should be discussed. I think the most important communication policy, one that will influence the way Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots approach the process, is if we achieve substantial progress at the talks. If you don’t have substantial progress, whatever communication policy follows, it will fail.”
However, both sides are avoiding the mudslinging of the past.
“We have a new process, with a new leader of the Turkish Cypriot community. Both leaders have the strong perception that the blame game should not be part of this process.”
“What is more important is to try, to have the will, to find a solution, a win-win solution. That is our plan.”