Interview with United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Cyprus, Mr. Espen Barth Eide (30 July 2015)
Are we witnessing history?
Eide: We are witnessing a historic opportunity. And if you grasp this opportunity, you will make history. And I say you, because it is the Cypriots’ history and the Cypriots’ opportunity. Myself and my team are here to help, and we are happy to help because it’s very rewarding and interesting and fascinating to be in the middle of this. But at the end of the day, this is up to first the elected leaders of both communities and then the people of both sides. The historic decision will come in two phases. First, hopefully the decision by the two leaders to agree and announce and recommend a shared deal, and second, for all Cypriots to vote on whether they agree with this or not. And only then we know whether history has been made.
Your statements are always very positive and optimistic. Don’t you fear that you might be raising the expectations too much?
Eide: But it’s not only me, your leaders Mr. Anastasiades and Mr. Akinci are both making very positive statements. They are also doing things that have never been seen before. I think few people watching them would think this could not work. I think it’s important to convey that something very serious and real is going on. The reason for my optimism is the spirit and atmosphere of the talks. But of course, it is not a done deal. I cannot guarantee this will work. We have a long road ahead and many things to be done. But with the two leaders, the chemistry they have developed, their pragmatic problem-solving attitude, it’s the best opportunity in many many years. I am optimistic but I am also realistic. It is a window of opportunity. Windows, as you know, can be open as well as closed. So it’s important to use the opportunity while it remains open. And it’s a responsibility of all Cypriots. Don’t leave it all to the leaders. You need the leaders to lead, but you also need the people to engage and think about this…
And whether it remains open may not be decided only internally. You can never exclude some external shock. Not that I think of anything particular but it’s always a risk.
What led to the positive spirit? Is it more to do with the leaders, the timing, or the international conjuncture?
Eide: I think it’s many things and I think the stars are very well aligned, which is not necessarily by design. It may be by coincidence or luck. The international support is massive. You have a government in Turkey that clearly wants to solve this problem and it repeatedly states that at the highest level, including Erdogan…
At your meetings are you convinced that Turkey wants to solve this problem?
Eide: I strongly feel that Turkey wants to be a constructive partner in solving the Cyprus problem, which they would like to go away. So does Greece, so does the United Kingdom, so does the UN Security Council. I was there last week and I met with the Security Council together with Lisa Buttenheim. We presented the state of affairs and what we are doing. And every single member, 15 of the 15 took the floor and spoke very favourably and encouraged the leaders, and all of them said in different phrases that this window of opportunity must be grasped, and that they are there to help. As you know, the European Union is very supportive. So the international support is very strong. At the same time, the circumstances in the neighbourhood, the very dramatic situation at the Middle East I think, has led some Cypriots to think that maybe maintaining a non-solution is not very smart. In a situation where Syria is collapsing, where there are big problems in Iraq, major transformation is going on in many countries including Turkey, people think ‘is this a moment to remain divided or is this a moment to unite.’ Which is a security argument. But there is also an economic argument, which has become clearer. The economy of scale of one country is better than to have two economies. And particularly, with the hydrocarbons, it became clear that you may now, as Cypriots, be entering into an age where this will be a major feature of your economy. And it’s much better to deal with that together in cooperation without the geopolitical conflict looming over it. And I can add to that, that in my other job in the World Economic Forum, I can say many investors are looking with interest at Cyprus because it’s a perfect location for Middle Eastern and European business operations if it is unified. But today, the investors don’t want to come here because of the political problem. So by keeping this non-solution for decade after decade, you have generated an opportunity cost for yourself that you can get rid of. So that is the circumstance. Then you can add to that the election of Mustafa Akinci. Akinci came with a clear problem-solving attitude. Akinci and Anastasiades – the two Limassolians- agree that we have to grasp this opportunity. These two gentlemen from the same city have a shared vision for the future, which is very much why I dare to be as optimistic as I am. And yet one more thing: Over the last months I have seen something extremely positive, which is public recognition and genuine recognition of the suffering of the other side, which I think has been missing in Cyprus at least at the highest levels. The elected Turkish Cypriot leader is able to say that more Greek Cypriots suffered in 74 than we did. Somebody like Ioannis Kasoulides is saying the same thing about the 60s, which is I think absolutely imperative in order to overcome the historic grievances. Yes your grievances are true. And this goes for both sides. It is a shared experience. This is far more important than the specific details of the negotiations because this creates an atmosphere that is highly important.
There are various allegations about the property issue in the media. It is being reported that a property commission already exists and that only the property rights of the original owners will be recognised. What is going on in the property issue?
Eide: Some of the news are absolutely blatantly wrong. Completely wrong.
I will say very clearly that the property commission does not yet exist. There is an idea to set it up if there is a settlement. The property commission that the leaders declared is an idea about the future – a commission that will be set up if there is a solution. So that is absolutely wrong. And as the leaders just declared, there is an individual right to property and this right is recognised. That right applies to current users as well as the original owner. That right will be respected, but the remedy by which it will be respected will vary depending on circumstance. It could be reinstatement, it could be compensation it could be exchange. But it’s very important to understand that the right may be on both sides at the same time – it is not either one or the other. The important thing is, if somebody has a right, that right will be respected – the right that exists on both sides and of course all sides. The point is that, the right to property will be respected and remedies by which it will be respected will be according to certain criteria.
Will the envisioned property commission decide on those criteria?
Eide: There will be clear criteria and the criteria and principles will be included in the deal. The sides will of course negotiate the criteria. If somebody tells you the criteria have been decided on, they are wrong because we are not done. This is a lot of work. But it is possible to respect these rights without creating a conflict between individuals and that is what we are trying to achieve.
Another allegation over the last few days is that all settlers will be sent back to Turkey.
Eide: The issues of citizenship or who will be the citizen of the future Cyprus is still on the table and it is an issue with many dimensions to it. I cannot say anything more than this: What we are creating is a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation as stated in the 11 February joint declaration and based on the principles and the values of the European Union. Of course, an important part of these values deal with people - the human rights of the people. So any solution to people has to be in line with European principles of human rights.
Former Turkish Cypriot chief negotiator Kudret Ozersay criticized the increased role of EU in the negotiations process and stated this could jeopardise the bi-zonal, bi-communal character of the federation. How legitimate are these concerns?
Eide: Thank you for asking. I know Kudret Ozersay well. I see him as a friend. He is an experienced and knowledgeable person. But on this particular point, he is wrong. Bi-zonality and bi-communality is an overarching premise for the discussions we are having. That is very clear from the 11 February declaration, and it is known and accepted by the Turkish Cypriots, the Greek Cypriots and the UN. That is not going to be negotiated. There will be a solution that is bi-communal and bi-zonal. That is certain. So that is not correct. As the 11 February declaration also stipulates, all of this shall be in line with European values and principles. You don’t have to be either a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation or in line with European values and principles. These are not in conflict. The assumption that you are either European or a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation is not true. The two sides and the UN are now working so that bi-zonality and bi-communality is true not only on the day of settlement but in the long run.
And the European Commission is fine with this and they are on board?
Eide: Point one, yes. Point two, they are not negotiating.
But they would have to accommodate a solution…
Eide: Exactly. But the two sides, with the help of the UN, are working to find a settlement that fully respects all the elements in the 11 February declaration: bi-zonality, bi-communality and European values and principles. In order to do so, we have invited jointly the European Commission to help us. So Junker and Mogherini visits were all about how can the EU organize their support. But the negotiations are between the two sides and led by the UN, and we want to come up with a solution that is fully bi-zonal and bi-communal and that is also fully respecting the European principles. The point is that we want both. We don’t want to choose. Bi-zonality and bi-communality are characteristics of the new federation, which will be an EU state. It’s not that the European Commission is going to impose on us a deal. This is a deal sought by the Cypriot leaders, who want the deal to be in line with European values and principles but also fully in line with the principles on bi-zonality and bi-communality. Nobody in the Turkish Cypriot side is giving up on bi-zonality and bi-communality. But equally importantly, there is nobody on the Greek Cypriot side demanding that they give it up. So when I talk about a European solution, I mean not only an EU member state, but also a modern, democratic country that will respect individual rights and everybody will have the same privileges as other EU citizens.
I know you are in contact with all three guarantor powers. Do you have indications that it is possible to find a formula that would be acceptable to all sides and that would address everyone’s concerns?
Eide: Well I think so. But I cannot promise, because we are still in the early days. I have these contacts and I know the key players at these countries well. But we have to understand that this issue can only be solved at the late stage of the process. In order to change the troop presence or the guarantee status, you need to know that we are close to a settlement that both communities are comfortable with. Because I think the essence of a settlement is that Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots feel confident that this settlement is not only good for now, but is good in 50 years. Turkish Cypriots should feel that there is no reason to fear that the 1960s or that the 15th of July 74 will repeat themselves. And Greek Cypriots should feel that they have no reason that the 20th of July 1974 will repeat itself - and not because of military stuff but because they believe in the new federation. The new state should give this feeling of security and trust. Turkish Cypriots should feel that their Turkish Cypriot identity will be protected by the federal state and the constituent states, and that the other community is not going to use this to rob them of certain rights. And the Greek Cypriots should feel that they are not under the shadow of a foreign troop presence that makes them uncomfortable. And if we achieve that – if the new state gives this feeling of security and trust to the citizens - which needs to be achieved inside the talks - then we can talk about security. When people ask me about security they think they will get the military answer. But the real feeling of security and trust is in the deal. People should feel secure not because of troops but because of the structure of the new state. That is the type of security that will lead the hard security to change.
And you have reasons to be optimistic that we may arrive at that point?
Eide: That is what I feel.