Interview with Toumazos Tsielepis, member of the Political Bureau, Head of the Cyprus Problem Office of the Party and International Law expert
‘Those who believe that the EU can bring a solution different from what the UN offers are deluded’
Sunday 9 April 2023, “Haravgi” newspaper
● If we do not accept political equality, there is no solution
● When we say we should continue from where the talks had remained, we must really mean it
● The principles on which the EU is founded are the same unalterable as the fundamental principles of international law and the Charter of the United Nations
● The President does not portray the best image or convey the best message when he talks about a solution of the Cyprus problem under the banner of Enosis (Note: union with Greece)
QUESTION: Since 2017 we have been in a prolonged stalemate on the Cyprus problem, with Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot side talking about a two state solution and the Greek Cypriot side talking about continuing talks from where they had remained at Crans-Montana. How easy is it to break this deadlock?
TT: The situation is indeed extremely difficult, perhaps the most difficult ever. The collapse of the talks at Crans Montana, which had its own peculiarities, made the Greek Cypriot side’s position even more difficult. It was a Cypriot-owned procedure and this is very important when we consider what happened in 2004 (Note: the rejection of the Anan Plan).
The second important specific peculiarity was that at Crans Montana, by general consensus, we had come very close to reaching a strategic agreement on the core issues and you can see that if we had achieved that, the chances of reaching a comprehensive solution would be much higher.
The third peculiarity was that after the breakdown of the talks, the United Nations for the first time praised Turkey for its stand.
For the sixth year running we have not had any negotiating procedure. I do not recall ever before that there has been such a long period without any negotiations. Historical experience shows that the principal fait accompli take place during such periods. Bearing in mind the aforementioned facts, it was completely certain that new serious fait accompli would subsequently be imposed both with regards the issue of the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Republic of Cyprus (EEZ) and on the issue of Varosha, where for the first time Turkey violated the status quo. Most importantly, the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot side returned to the policies and rhetoric they had abandoned in the past, namely the two state policy.
QUESTION: Is it enough for the government to say that it wants to pick up from where the negotiations had remained at Crans Montana?
TT: No, as this also emerges from all what I have just said. You will recall that UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, in a series of Reports he had submitted after Crans-Montana, insisted that the procedure should start from where it had been interrupted. The former President verbally accepted this, but the Secretary General was not convinced, with the result that Mr. Guterres no longer makes this reference in his Reports.
Furthermore, the President was not convincing because he did not mean it when he tabled “new ideas” which annulled basic convergences that had been recorded. For example, on the issue of political equality, which Mr. Anastasiades was in effect rejecting and even by engaging in demagogic rhetoric that even took us back to a return to the 1960 Constitution. But if you do not accept political equality, there is no solution.
QUESTIOIN: In other words, does Cyprus still have a credibility problem?
TT: For sure, Cyprus still has a credibility problem. The international community is waiting to see how the new President will act and move. The international community has its reservations, precisely because Mr. Christodoulides served as Foreign Minister [during the Anastasiades government] and made a significant contribution to Anastasiades’ dead-end policy on the Cyprus problem. Of course it is giving him some time to see whether this time the Greek Cypriot side really means what it says.
QUESTION: As AKEL, how do you see the issue of EU involvement as projected by the President of the Republic, with the different positions he has taken from time to time?
TT: AKEL has no problem with a more active involvement on the part of the EU. But what exactly is it that worries us? The same rhetoric was used by the former President as soon as he was elected in 2013. However, the more active involvement of the EU led us to a severe disagreement with the EU, especially with what had been played out at Crans Montana. It was then that the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Frederica Mogherini publicly praised Turkey for its stance. Prior to that, other EU officials contributed to the procedure, we had a presence at the highest political level at both the Geneva and Crans Montana conferences, including Juncker and Mogherini, as well as an EU technocrat at the negotiating table concerning the implementation of the acquis.
It is for that reason necessary to clarify what more active EU involvement actually means. The President of the Republic himself states that the European Union cannot and does not want to replace the United Nations. Most importantly, we must not have any illusions that a solution based on EU principles and values will be tailor made to suit the Greek Cypriots. The principles and values on which the EU is founded on are the same unalterable as the fundamental principles of international law and the Charter of the United Nations.
So if we think that the EU will bring us a different solution other than the one the UN can provide, then you are sorely mistaken and under a huge misconception.
I will give a simple example to illustrate what I mean.
How many times have we heard Mr. Anastasiades speak negatively about the question of a single positive Turkish Cypriot vote in the Ministerial Cabinet and claim that there are no such arrangements anywhere in the world? And yet, in many countries around the world there are arrangements in place that guarantee individual rights on the one hand and collective rights on the other.
For example, in Belgium, the Walloons and the Flemish have equal representation in the Council of Ministers and therefore no decision can be taken without one positive vote from the other community. I would like to clarify that in our case the Greek Cypriot Ministers will be almost twice as many as the Turkish Cypriot Ministers.
QUESTION: In May we have elections in Turkey. Do you think that if there is a change of government, it will change anything with regards the Cyprus problem, given that the Republican People’s Party (CHP) has always taken a tougher stand on the Cyprus problem?
TT: We should not prejudge what will happen. What you say, however, is borne out by the facts themselves. While the Kemalists were in power, Turkey’s policy was in favour of a two states solution or for a confederal entity. Consequently, we are not sure that if Erdogan loses we will see a better position adopted by Turkey on the Cyprus problem.
QUESTION: Does the fact that the President of the Republic declares his intention to continue the procedure from Crans Montana etc. whilst attending and speaking at an event under the slogan of Enosis influence some people who are following the Cyprus problem?
TT: It does not portray the best picture, nor does it convey the best message. Do you remember how much tension was created after Mont Pelerin, where we actually came within a hair’s breadth of an agreement being recorded on the issue of territory, but when we came back to Cyprus we had that whole fuss with the enosis commemoration law (Note: tabled in Parliament in February 2017 by the far-right National Popular Front ELAM and subsequently approved by Parliament following the abstention of the ruling DISY whilst AKEL was the only party that rejected it) that took us way back?
QUESTION: Is there any way to reverse those facts? How difficult is the task?
TT: Of course it is a difficult task, but we should not go back to the status quo and think that we cannot do anything. Our country is de facto partitioned and this harbors enormous dangers for the future.
Is it possible to get Turkey back on the rails at Crans-Montana?
One way of answering this question is to try to exert pressure and influence on Turkey in this direction. And there are two elements that we need to put into this effort. When the declaration is made that we should continue from where we left off at Crans Montana, we should mean it in practice. The former President made a verbal declaration that he wanted to continue the talks from where they had remained, but he did not convince anyone for the simple reason that he did not mean it.
Some incentives must also be given to the Turkish Cypriot community and Turkey that do not go beyond and violate our “red lines”. AKEL had elaborated a relevant and very specific proposal and submitted it to the former President of the Republic three years ago. The only response to it was a public distortion of our proposal. If we do not base our policy on these two axes, the question of whether the facts can be reversed will not be answered.