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Make-or-break November

Leaders Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci have three meetings until the end to November to find out if they can reach an understanding on the property aspect of the Cyprus problem.

The Cyprus Weekly understands that differences on this complicated and thorny issue, block progress on almost all related aspects of the political problem, namely territory, settlers and European Union issues.

The two leaders kicked-off their urgent quest for progress on property last Wednesday and are expected to carry on discussing today and also in another two meetings next week.

Their last meeting was held in the shadow of Monday’s Greek Cypriot student attacks against Turkish Cypriots and Akinci’s rebuff of a reception with the German Foreign Minister in Nicosia, because he would not be treated on an equal footing with Anastasiades.

The main obstacle

The main hurdle the two sides need to overcome on property is the Turkish Cypriot demand for guaranteed majorities in population and land ownership in the north. In political discussions, during their private meetings at Nicosia’s defunct airport, Anastasiades and Akinci have reportedly agreed that guaranteed majorities will be secured in a settlement.

That is because very few Greek Cypriots will be willing to return and live in the Turkish Cypriot constituent state, whereas territorial adjustments, compensation and property exchanges will ensure that Turkish Cypriots will have de facto majority in land ownership in the north.

Orally, Akinci has reportedly accepted that the above will be a settlement reality and there is no need for it to be included as a written provision to a future solution accord.

According to insiders, things changed when the negotiating teams tried to put the leaders’ political understanding in writing, with the Turkish Cypriots insisting that population and land majorities should be included in a peace plan.

The whole issue would be secondary if Anastasiades could sell the above provisions to a reticent Greek Cypriot electorate. As it is now, though, this obstacle prevents the two sides from defining the terms of ‘initial owner’ and ‘current user’ so they can move onto substantial discussion.

A way out is to try to circumvent this hurdle by devising detailed property criteria, a framework that could define which therapy (restitution, compensation or exchange) is suitable to different properties north and south of the island.

The prospects

A breakthrough on properties will allow the leaders to focus in their December meetings on related issues of territory, settlers and the EU’s four freedoms, as well as tackling some pending matters linked to the constitution of a Federal Cyprus.

The UNSG special advisor, Espen Barth Eide, has already made clear that, after next week’s meetings, the leaders will issue a joint statement informing public opinion about the state of play and possible solution prospects.

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