Monday 10 August 2015

Interview with Germany's Ambassador to Nicosia, Nikolai von Schoepff (12 July 2015)

Esra Aygin 

How do you read the results of the elections for the Turkish Cypriot leader held in April? What does the overwhelming support for Mr. Mustafa Akinci mean?
Schoepff: It shows that the Turkish Cypriots were frustrated about the developments they were faced with. Mr. Mustafa Akinci’s election is a clear ‘yes’ for a devoted, strong leader who would work for solution. I have met Mr. Akinci and you can immediately feel his vast experience, solution-oriented approach and determination. His election has created new hope and new enthusiasm on both sides of the green line. President Anastasiades has personally told me that the real change came with Akinci. And I think that way too. For this, everyone has to thank him. And of course, I also congratulate the voters in northern Cyprus for having demonstrated a clear preference for a settlement and becoming an inseparable part of Europe.

Is Akinci’s presence enough to render this process different from the previous ones that all failed?
Schoepff: There is a big difference in the process now. By electing Akinci, Turkish Cypriots clearly said ‘we want a different Cyprus.’ And I think the feeling in the south is similar. There is a growing sentiment among both Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots that they want a ‘Cyprus nation’ instead of being subordinates of Greece and Turkey. The ‘Cypriot’ identity has come to the forefront. The conditions have never been better and will never be better again. I believe the two Leaders are aware of this fact. I like both leaders very much. They are both very practical and both have the same vision for building a united Cyprus in Europe. They belong to the same generation, they are both from Limassol, they understand each other and who have both proven in the past that they pursue the same goal. My impression is that there is a big harmony between them. A united federal Cyprus would be a trade and business gateway between Europe and the Middle East and serve as a hub of stability in the whole Middle East and Arab region, which is inflicted by instability and challenges. The leaders see this. Cyprus is on the right path.

Do you think you will be the Ambassador who witnesses solution in Cyprus?
Schoepff: I am extremely hopeful that I will be. The process is moving forward very well and the situation has completely changed within months. We are hearing and seeing things that would be unimaginable two months ago.

What is Germany’s stance regarding and role in the negotiations process?
Schoepff: Germany is following the negotiations closely. Chancellor Merkel is in close contact with Anastasiades. Important German politicians including Foreign Minister Steinmeier will soon be visiting Cyprus and meeting with both leaders. Germany welcomes the resumption of the negotiations wholeheartedly and we wish the two Leaders the courage and wisdom necessary to maintain the current momentum and to conclude them soon. Since the new Cyprus will be a full member of the European Union it goes without saying that the settlement needs to be in line with the European Acquis. The EU and Germany stand ready to support the process if required. But the process is up to the two communities. A just and viable settlement can only be achieved by the two community Leaders.

The aim is to achieve important progress by the end of October or beginning of November and then to have a multilateral meeting with the participation of guarantors for thornier issues such as guarantees. Do you think this is a realistic expectation?
Schoepff: This all depends first and foremost on the progress made until then. As long as the two Leaders feel the sense of urgency – which they do at the moment – there is no need for timelines. My understanding is that both sides have agreed that guarantees will be the last issue to be discussed after all other aspects of a solution have been dealt with and all internal issues have been tackled. I believe that this is a practical approach. At the end of the day, this will be up the united Cyprus but I don’t think a united federal Cyprus would need guarantees. Cyprus, after a solution, should be like any other normal full-fledged EU member state.

What do you think about the first CBMs?
Schoepff: CBMs are important because they convey a strong message to the public and contribute to the building of the concept of co-existence and a joint nation. They make progress visible and tangible for the citizens of Cyprus and make their daily lives easier. In this way CBMs help to create a positive atmosphere, bring people together and to prepare the public for a solution.

Drawing on your experience from German reunification, what kinds of CBMs should the two sides focus on to bring the two communities together?
Schoepff: In Germany we strongly believe in the power of the private sector. I believe a greater interconnection between the two economies, more joint business projects and joint business promotion will bring people even closer together. It also helps to place Cyprus on the map of international investors. My recent trip to Germany with the two Presidents of the Chambers of Commerce was a big success in this respect. And this was the first time we promoted in Germany the whole of Cyprus. We had very good meetings in Hannover, Munich and Berlin. I believe that it is very important to develop business and economy sectors.

You have close relations with the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce. How are your relations with Turkish Cypriots other than that? How active are you in the north?
Schoepff: Actually, the more I am here, the more I like the north. I have two aims here in Cyprus that I will tell you now. One is to set up a bilateral German-Cyprus chamber of commerce. And the Cyprus leg of it will of course be bi-communal and include Turkish Cypriots. We are already working with the Chambers of Commerce on both sides for this. The second is, I want to strengthen our office in the north, have a stronger presence and to be more active there.

What do you expect the biggest challenge to be in terms of the reconciliation of people again drawing from experience?
Schoepff: Germany knows about what division means. Reunification is a process. To be successful, it needs time. Decades after the fall of the Berlin wall, we still feel the difficulties of reunification as well as enjoying its benefits. The biggest challenge is to create an atmosphere of equality and mutual respect where nobody feels left behind. People who have reason to believe that their lives work is not recognized by the new state they live in will soon start to disengage and refuse to contribute to building a new society. Also, I am very much in favour of a joint political process in the united Cyprus. Politicians after a solution should appeal to both communities. Politics should serve as an instrument of unification rather than separation.

Do you have any indicators as to what the financial effects/benefits of a settlement in Cyprus would be?
Schoepff: All economic studies I have seen suggest unanimously that the economic benefits of a settlement will be enormous. There are three simple reasons for this: First, while the “frozen conflict situation” may seem relatively stable it still constitutes a political risk for international investors. Only if Cyprus succeeds in abolishing this risk factor will she be able to develop her full potential as a trading and business hub between Europe and the Near and Middle East. Second, the very small market size of Cyprus would be increased considerably and the hinterland for European exporters could be vastly expanded, reaching from Turkey to Egypt. Third, the settlement itself would directly trigger a number of public investment projects in infrastructure and administrative capacities. While these general effects of a settlement are widely known it still remains difficult to quantify the expected benefits more precisely. Although some reports have been prepared by academicians or researchers, no real professionals have ever looked at this issue.  In my view, the IMF is the most suitable institution to provide a macroeconomic framework analysis for the north and for the south. Such an analysis would greatly help to give us a clearer picture of the compatibility and the growth potential of the two economies. IMF could make an economic impact analysis, which would provide us with reliable data on the real benefits and financial needs of the unification of Cyprus. I believe this is crucially important at the moment. I believe it would make a great confidence building measure to commission the IMF with such a study.

Lastly, what can you say about the developments in Greece?
Schoepff: I don’t want to comment much about this issue but I can say that Europe will never let Greece go. Cyprus, on the other hand, has been very results-oriented in managing its financial crisis and has created a very positive perception. By going ahead with the necessary reforms Cyprus and with a solid financial policy, now has very solid financial figures and the economy has gone back to growth.

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