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Lots of baggage as leaders set course for Geneva

There is only one week left before the two Cypriot leaders set their course for Geneva, and the two sides couldn’t have more to do in order to iron out as many differences as possible.

As the two chief negotiators meet on Tuesday in an effort to tackle their disagreements ahead of their meetings followed by a scheduled Cyprus conference in Geneva, more than a handful of critical issues that remain open, including property and governance.

President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci are expected to take on the issues one by one but also in relation to each other during their pre-conference meetings January 9-11.

One issue, according to political pundits, is the issue on governance where specifically the rotating presidency and the decision mechanisms within the federal government are a hot topic. Akinci has signalled that decisions ought to be taken with at least one Turkish Cypriot vote, while Greek Cypriots disfavour a carte blanche on such an arrangement saying it would lead to deadlock.

But reaching a deadlock within governmental institutions may not be an insurmountable dead-end, if the two sides come to an agreement on judicial authority and the resolution of disputes in a court of law.

Greek Cypriots could backtrack on an earlier proposal for resolving disputes, where one Supreme Court judge would be eliminated from casting a vote in situations where there was a tie.

This was not received well in the south, and critics landed hard on Anastasiades accusing him of mixing the “lottery” with Justice. An older idea having a foreign judge casting the deciding vote, as was provided in the Annan plan in 2004, may be thrown around once again, but sources also point to a new idea where a Cypriot judge authoring the legal decision could simply not take part in the vote.

There is also a lot of work to be done on the property issue, with around 30 criteria already established during the Mont Pelerin meetings. But while Greek Cypriots are steadfast on having as many of their people as possible claim back their properties, Turkish Cypriots look to minimising the impact of such a decision on Turkish Cypriots already living in areas where they wish to maintain numerical majorities.

Another important issue is how the two sides will agree to define “users” of properties, with the south seeing a difference between Turkish Cypriots, Turkish nationals, and foreigners, while the north is lumping them together.

The property issue may be clarified on January 11 in Geneva, when the two sides are expected to present their maps that differ very little on land percentages but would make a world of difference on Morphou/Guzelyurt as both sides want the area under their respective administrations.

Other issues that remain open ahead of Geneva include the economy, while the chapter on the European Union is moving forward.

The composition of the meeting in Geneva also remains unclear, with the south insisting that the Republic of Cyprus ought to be present at the table, while the north maintains that only the two communities, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, can sit at the table as equal partners.

The bigger issue that could be a game changer is the security question, with Greek Cypriots trying to decipher any move by Turkey ahead of the Cyprus conference on January 12, in order to ascertain whether this could signal a change and a breakthrough.

For now, chief negotiators Andreas Mavroyiannis and Ozdil Nami will attempt to tackle property and governance during their meeting in Nicosia, with more meetings as well as moves by guarantors Greece and Turkey expected to intensify in the coming days.

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