The negotiations for the Cyprus problem are entering a new and critical phase. Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades and his Turkish Cypriot counterpart Mustafa Akinci have decided to move the process one step further. The two leaders acknowledged that significant progress had been achieved on many of the outstanding issues -mainly those of power sharing and governance, economy, EU matters and property- and they can therefore proceed with talks over one of the most controversial and difficult issues of the Cyprus problem: territorial adjustments. This new phase will take place outside Cyprus in an isolated resort in Switzerland, Mont Pelerin, from 7 to 11 of November with the aim of working exclusively and undisturbedly on bridging the gaps between the two sides and pave the way for an international meeting to discuss safety issues.
This new phase is determined by a number of intertwined issues and processes that might equally create a favourable condition for reaching a solution to this long unresolved problem or end up once again in a deadlock. These issues include, inter alia: the developments in Turkey following the failed coup in July that led to increased authoritarianism by T. Erdogan’s government and how this will be reflected in their positions on the Cyprus problem, particularly regarding the most critical issues of this process (safety mechanisms, presence of the Turkish army, guarantor rights); the escalation of the conflict in Syria and Iraq; the easing of the tension between Israel and Turkey as well as between Turkey and Russia; the outcome of the presidential elections in the USA; the resources of natural gas in Cyprus exclusive economic zone; internal political factors and mainly the intense conflict between the political parties in Cyprus.
Despite public protests by most Greek Cypriot political parties, President Anastasiades has the backing of his own governing party, the right-wing DISY, and of the major opposition party, the left-wing AKEL; together they comprise approximately 56% of the electorate. Moreover, the UN, the EU and the USA have expressed their wish to see this process through and their willingness to provide support in order for the talks to be successful. Russia also stated its commitment in helping out for a solution although it warned that this solution must be the result of the Cypriots free will and that it should not provide for guarantor rights, the presence of armed forces and accession to NATO. There seems to be an international agreement that the Cyprus problem is on the verge of conclusion. In addition, a few days ago the Cypriot government has proposed to cancel the December 2016 local elections because of the ongoing discussions for reforms at the local level of administration that will see the number of municipalities decrease; a proposal immediately denied by all other parties except the governing DISY.
All the above make many people believe that a solution might be within reach this time and this triggers discussions and disputes among the Greek Cypriot political actors. These discussions are dominated by two main concerns: power sharing between the two communities and security; both concerns are further sub-divided in other areas of anxiety. All these, in turn, trigger the ‘fear factor’, i.e., legitimate but also exaggerated concerns over a possible agreement because of the stakes involved; most profoundly the reconfiguration of power structures and mechanisms both between and within the two communities.
Power sharing – although not easily admitted publicly by any of the actors – conceals the fears and objections, and at the same time reveals the perceptions and stances of the Greek Cypriot political actors regarding the entering of a new arrangement that will see them sharing their political authority with the Turkish Cypriots. Greek Cypriots are accustomed to governing on their own in a unitary state; the prospect of sharing this power with the Turkish Cypriots in a federal state activates concerns but also resistance.
Security factors include broadly speaking two set of issues: economic concerns and safety. The first set of factors involve issues such as the economic cost of a possible solution and how and in which ways the everyday life of the people will be affected; the economic cost of implementing the solution and who will bear this cost; the economic cost of the compensations required for those that properties will not be reinstated, etc. The second set of issues includes questions over the continuation or not of Turkey’s guarantor right to intervene in Cyprus; the presence of Turkish military forces and/or bases; and the number of Turkish settlers that will legally remain in Cyprus.
Both concerns are triggered by a number of interlinked factors: a disruption of everydayness; the fear of the unknown; the fear of being relegated in decision making mechanisms; the effect on economic entrenched interests, etc. The opposite reading, however, is also valid: those who strongly support a solution may also benefit economically and politically by it. Most Greek Cypriots wonder whether a possible solution will actually improve their life or will it lead to it being ‘swamped’ by dysfunctionalities and conflicts.
The President of the Republic of Cyprus, N. Anastasiades, is arguably in a very delicate and difficult position. Some argue that he is totally committed to a solution and that he will do his best in this direction. His choice of addressing the people two days before going to Switzerland was received as an indication of a preparatory stage for informing the Greek Cypriots about a forthcoming solution. Others argue that with the next presidential elections approaching (February 2018) he will stall the process until he is first reelected. The latter argument is based upon the significant power vested in the presidential office which no president easily surrenders. A possible agreement will signal a change in the power structure and thus threaten the status quo. Regardless of intentions, on the day after Mont Pelerin we will all be in a better position to judge whether a solution is within reach.