A little more than a year into the negotiations, it seems that the magic has been lost and it will be a miracle if the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot leaders meet their 2016 target for a Cyprus settlement.
The sides have not been able to achieve much since the infamous Istanbul crisis back in May as they struggled to bridge the remaining difficulties and reach further convergences especially in the very complicated and sensitive issue of property.
According to an informal timetable, the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot sides were long supposed to finalise the technical aspects of governance and power sharing and property issues, and start discussing the territory issue in June.
The frustration was apparent in Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci’s statements after the first meeting of the intensified July negotiations.
“It seems that we have to work much more and much faster if we are to meet the target of solving the Cyprus problem by the end of 2016,” said Akinci.
With August and December being holiday months, June and July were considered to be crucial in determining whether or not Cyprus would be united this year.
It seems that the chance has been lost.
The Turkish Cypriot side feels like the results, of the May 22 elections, which saw hardline nationalist parties including extremists ELAM, enter parliament, have affected the stance of Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades, pressuring him to become much more reserved and unbending in the negotiations.
The fact that Anastasiades may well be pondering running in the presidential elections in 2018 could also keep him from making some tough decisions required for a solution.
The Greek Cypriot side argues that it has so far not been able to see a good-willed gesture from Turkey, which would make it easier for it to explain to its people some of the tough compromises it has to make.
In addition to the loss of momentum on the negotiating table, the public sentiment has also shifted for the worse. Especially after the failure of the parties, guided by micro-management and short-sighted, old school-nationalistic policies, to cooperate during the huge Troodos blaze in June. The truth remains that the Cyprus problem needs to be solved in 2016, since many factors would increasingly complicate reunification efforts early into 2017.
Turkey is very open about having given until the end of this year for a successful outcome to the negotiations. Very sensitive issues, like granting new Turkish Cypriot citizenships to tens of thousands of Turks residing in the north for at least five years have been postponed by Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party AKP for the sake of the negotiations.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus is the latest senior Turkish official to reiterate the 2016 deadline and hint policy changes beyond that date.
He said last week. “If there is no agreement in the negotiations…we will continue the existing assistance to Turkish Cypriots in a stronger manner and with a new vision”.