Endless talks in Cyprus

Published 12.02.2019 00:28
Updated 13.02.2019 11:02

The United Nations said it will host an informal meeting between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot leaders. According to the press, the U.N.'s Cyprus envoy has been shuttling between the Cypriot leaders and guarantor countries over several months to prepare the framework for the talks, two years after negotiations stopped. The meeting will take place at a compound inside the U.N. controlled buffer zone, known as the Green Line. The press reports are not totally accurate. First, it is not true that the two sides did not negotiate at all for the last two years. The informal or indirect talks have continued. In fact, this may be proof that no one needs the U.N. to bring the parties together.

The leaders were not negotiating officially because they needed time to decide on the content of the negotiations. The two-year pause on official negotiations demonstrates that neither of the parties on the island had a feeling of urgency. So it would be interesting to know why the U.N. is rushing into things now. Maybe the U.N. secretary-general or his envoy to Cyprus want to show they have achieved something. They better keep in mind that the Cyprus problem has seen many secretary-generals and special envoys.

It is interesting for the U.N. to have described the upcoming talks as "informal." The two Cypriot leaders will meet under the auspices of the U.N. and with the approval of guarantor countries, but their meeting will be labeled "informal." One gets the impression from this that they will only talk about their families, personal hobbies or the weather. It is of course better if the negotiating parties develop personal relations as well. That could help them while negotiating on political issues. However, if this meeting will be informal, why would the two leaders need the U.N. representative to be present?

Also, why do we still need U.N. peacekeeping forces on the island, anyway? It is not like the two sides will suddenly start a war when these forces leave. The border that separates them is not even closed, there are border gates and people from both sides travel all over the island. So it is hard to understand what the U.N. peacekeeping soldiers are doing there.

Maybe the purpose of informal talks is to try to convince the parties to make concessions that guarantor countries wouldn't accept. If the negotiations were official, the guarantor states would be asked to be present at the meeting. People may assume they know what the Turkish and Greek Cypriots want. Maybe they do know what the current leaders of these communities want. However, the circumstances are changing constantly, and the expectations of the Turkish and Greek Cypriot people are evolving as well. In other words, it is not a given that the leaders will express the actual desire of their people. As for the Turkish side, are we sure that the priorities of President Mustafa Akıncı are always the ones of the people of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC)?

We have seen many resolution plans for Cyprus in the last decades based on the principles of federation, or confederation, or two independent states, or a unitary state, and so on. Every plan had its supporters and opponents on both sides. Political fault lines appeared within each community because of these often overly complicated proposals. At the end, every negotiation round only confirmed that the Cyprus problem may have no solution. Every model the constitutional law has invented has already been proposed. Nicos Anastasiades is now talking about a "decentralized federation," which is probably something like a devolved or loose federation. The problem is not really the title of the model. Federation, confederation, or anything else, the question is how to make the political, economic and social structures function properly on a daily basis.

The talks are necessary for maintaining peaceful relationships. However, negotiations that have taken decades, like in Cyprus, may risk becoming political instruments to gain time, to preserve the status quo or simply to make headlines.

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