By Esra Aygin
As the Middle East is sinking deeper into chaos; and Turkey, with a caretaker government, is striking Kurdish militants in northern Iraq and the Islamic State in Syria, Cyprus seems to be the only good news in a region marred with instability and bloodshed.
The negotiations between the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot sides aimed at finding a comprehensive federal settlement to the Cyprus problem are progressing quietly but solidly, raising hopes for the first time in many years that Cyprus can be a success story.
Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akıncı and Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades, since May, have held six formal meetings as well as several social come-togethers, while there have been close to 30 meetings between negotiators Özdil Nami and Andreas Mavroyiannis and their teams.
A lot of ground has been covered on the topic of governance and power sharing, and the sides are now discussingthe topics of territory and property. Working groups have been established on the topics of EU matters, property and economy and the process is already leading to an increasing interdependence between the two sides with confidence building measures such as electricity interconnection, where the first phase has been completed.
There seems to be widespread acknowledgment among political circles, the business world, civil society and even the church that this may very well be the best and probably the last chance to unify Cyprus. The rejectionist voices are unusually low.
The negotiations process already seems irreversible in terms of the change in the way the two sides view the process and each other.The two leaders see each other as partners instead of enemies. They are not dragging their feet, playing blame games or trying to defeat one another. They understand each other’s concerns and cooperate in building a shared country. They have even started talking about past wrongdoings and are showing signs of accepting responsibility and recognising each other’s pains – an unprecedented development for Cyprus.
Sources close to the negotiations are saying that it will be clear fairly soon whether the negotiations process will actually lead to a referendum. If the settlement reached by the two leaders gets the approval of the Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots in the referendum, the new bi-communal, bi-zonal federation will be a full member of the European Union from day one.
With the aim of preparing Turkish Cypriots, their laws and institutions for EU membership, a bi-communal European Union Matters committee has been established.
The committee will be assisting Turkish Cypriots in their preparations to operate within the EU the day after a solution.
Besides assisting and coordinating the work of harmonising the laws and regulations in the occupied north with EU legislation and preparing institutions to function within as part of the EU, this committee is expected to bring a whole new dynamic to the process as it will require the involvement and cooperation of many people on a technical level from both sides.
“Turkish Cypriots, the day after the solution, will find themselves in the European Union,” Akıncı said about the preparation process.
“The Turkish Cypriot community, with its institutions, should be prepared for this. Therefore, as negotiations are proceeding towards a comprehensive solution, we also need to be establishing a Turkish Cypriot community and a Turkish Cypriot constituent state that is able to function under a federative roof and within the European Union.”
As the Turkish Cypriot side is now feeling more comfortable in having the European Union dimension integrated into the negotiation process, it has also agreed to the reappointment of Pieter Van Nuffel as the Personal Representative of the President of the European Commission to the UN Good Offices Mission in Cyprus.
Nuffel will be offering technical assistance to the negotiations when necessary to help find EU-compatible formulas, and reporting back to Brussels.
The Turkish Cypriot side, during the previous years, had resisted active engagement, support and role of the European Union in the negotiations arguing that the EU could not be an objective and impartial party since the Republic of Cyprus is a full member of the bloc.
Moreover, it feared that an increased EU role in the negotiations could make derogations from the EU acquis more difficult, therefore, jeopardising the bi-communal, bi-zonal character of the federation.
As a result, Nuffel had been largely sidelined from the negotiations process.
In fact, former Turkish Cypriot chief negotiator Kudret Özersay made a statement on social media earlier this week, criticising the reappointment of Nuffel and warning that as a representative of the European Commission, Nuffel would try to undermine bi-zonality and bi-communality of a future federation in Cyprus.
The February 11, 2014 joint declaration by the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot sides states that: “The bi-zonal, bi-communal nature of the federation and the principles upon which the EU is founded will be safeguarded and respected throughout the island.”
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