The power-sharing hurdle in the Cyprus talks

The power-sharing hurdle in the Cyprus talks

Will it be possible for the Turkish Cypriot president to produce a map showing his territorial offers for a settlement on Cyprus while not even an inch of progress has been achieved on replacing the “red” section regarding power sharing with a “black” one? If he does walk such a road, will it be possible for him to return to northern Cyprus still claiming that compromises were made but that the Greek Cypriots were made to concede to the Turkish Cypriot key demand of political equality and agree to a rotating presidency as well as the effective participation of Turkish Cypriots in governance?

In the first two days of the three-day “hatching period” before an international conference with the participation of the two sides on the island and the three guarantor countries, Greece, Turkey and Britain, is convened on Jan. 12, it was seen that Greek Cypriots were trying to backtrack from some of the convergences achieved over the past 19-month talks. On the thorny property issue, for example, where there are still considerable differences between the two sides, Greek Cypriots moved away from some of the convergences achieved. The two leaders could not establish a rapprochement on the issue and referred it to a working committee.

On the issue of political equality, the Greek Cypriot side apparently has difficulties comprehending why Turkish Cypriots are so “obsessed” with it. This heading which dominated the first two days of talks indeed addresses the very roots of the Cyprus problem as far as the Turkish Cypriots are concerned. If Greek Cypriots did not attempt to annihilate Turkish Cypriots because of their objection to the removal of the effective partnership articles from the 1960 constitution, there would be no Cyprus problem. Thus, from Turkish intervention to refugees, property and territory to all other aspects of the Cyprus problem, Turkish Cypriots consider power-sharing as the “mother of all problems.”

That is why before leaving northern Cyprus for Switzerland on Sunday Turkish Cypriot President Mustafa Akıncı declared boldly that if the Cyprus deal reached did not meet the Turkish Cypriots’ demand for effective participation in governance, he would not refer it to the vote of the people. Thus, the issue is not just about the rotation of the presidency or how the ministries will be shared, but also includes other mechanisms, including but not restricted to the veto power of the Turkish leader irrespective of whether or not he is the rotating president. Greek Cypriots, however, refuse to see the importance of the issue for Turkish Cypriots.

The Greek Cypriot objection mainly centered on the very same reason that Archbishop Makarios ignited the problem by offering the notorious 13-point constitutional amendment package in 1962: to achieve effectiveness of governance. Still, Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades never ever categorically rejected the rotating presidency and implied that he might deliver it when and if the talks reach exchange of maps stage. That is expected to be done today, the last day of the bilateral talks before the process is carried to a meeting also featuring the three guarantor powers.

Equally important – and perhaps of existential importance – will be the discussions on the future of the 1960 guarantee system, and of course Turkey’s military presence on Cyprus. Though this issue will be at the discretion of the multilateral meeting on Jan. 12, which will be participated in by the three guarantor powers as well, the two sides must establish an understanding on it as well. Seeing in the latest public opinion polls that as many as 85 percent of Turkish Cypriots might vote against a deal that does not include a guarantee for Turkey, Akıncı has been stressing that he would not sign an agreement devoid of a Turkish guarantee.

Ankara has also been stressing that its guarantor status cannot be negotiable. The Greek Cypriot leadership and Greece, however, have been stressing that Cyprus has long become an EU member and there can be no foreign guarantee for an EU-member country. Furthermore, Greece and Greek Cypriots have been stressing that the five-party conference – which they demand the UN Security Council Permanent Five as well as the EU must sit around the table for as well – can only discuss how the guarantee system should be scrapped and how Turkey’s military should totally withdraw from the island.

Thus, the talks appear doomed to collapse, if not over power sharing – which is very likely – then over the guarantees issue. Indeed, that was one of the reasons Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan decided not to travel to Geneva. Surprisingly enough, there were Athens-based rumors floating around yesterday that if the two Cypriot communal leaders managed to come close to a deal and if a deal indeed becomes discernible, both Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras might travel to Geneva... 

Cross your fingers, light the prayer candles with the best of hopes and tie whatever piece of cloth you might find on the branch of a wish tree and pray for success... As is said, no one should give up hope even for a patient at death’s door.