UNTIL January’s Geneva Conference President Anastasiades, supported by all the parties had drawn a red line on the issue of security and guarantees. It was unacceptable for a country to have intervention rights in a sovereign state, he argued quite convincingly. The Greek foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, went as far as to say that Greece would not attend an international conference on Cyprus if its objective was not to sign the abolition of the system of guarantees.
It was a rather extreme position to take and was interpreted at the time as an attempt to derail the peace process. Even if this was the objective, only a diplomatic novice could have thought this would have been achieved without any negotiation, especially given that the Turkish Cypriots felt very strongly about it. Kotzias, however, went to Geneva in early January, without his condition being satisfied, but succeeded in bringing the conference to a premature end, angering the UN secretary-general, by claiming he was unprepared to discuss guarantees and needed a week or two to prepare.
After Geneva, Anastasiades found a new red line that he could not possibly cross – the four freedoms for Turkish citizens, which was raised publicly by a Turkish government official. At the time the impression was that this was a new demand and the government did nothing to set the record straight because this suited them. The issue had already been discussed at the talks but was not referred to as the ‘four freedoms’. It was known as the issue of ‘equal treatment’ and envisaged that the same number of Turkish nationals and Greek nationals would be allowed to work in Cyprus; put simply, if 10,000 Greeks worked here, 10,000 Turks would also be entitled to work. This arrangement was one of the Christofias-Talat convergences.
None of this was mentioned by the government, which declared it could never accept such an arrangement as it would open the door to Cyprus and the EU to 70 million Turks. The government’s objective was to turn this into a problem for the EU and thus secure the support of the European Commission for its position. Anastasiades and his spokesman repeatedly said that this was an issue that affected the whole EU, in an obvious attempt to pass the responsibility for the drawing of this red line to Brussels. The government said that Anastasiades had written to Commission President Jean Claude Juncker about the four freedoms and had raised the matter with EU leaders, all of whom agreed with him.
It is almost two months since the letter was sent, but Anastasiades does not seem to have received a reply. If he has, he not made its content public, raising suspicions that it did not tell him anything that he could use to justify his new red line. Last month he met Juncker in Brussels, but neither the commission president nor any of his spokesmen expressed a view on the matter. Instead, the government started leaking information to Phileleftheros, claiming that UN Special Advisor Espen Barth Eide, who was scheduled to meet Juncker, would try to sell the Turkish demand for the four freedoms to the commission. Eide had even received warnings from the government telling him not raise the four freedoms with Juncker.
The reason was Anastasiades already knew the commission’s legal office had opined that ‘equal treatment’ was a bilateral issue between Cyprus and Turkey and was not in violation of any EU laws or directives. But instead of coming clean about it, he kept it a secret with the intention of making Eide the fall guy, when the truth eventually came out. The truth emerged in Phileleftheros last Sunday, which following the government script, reported from Brussels that Eide and the UK had secured “the understanding of Brussels about the need of the Cyprus federal state to offer Ankara bilateral facilities”.
This was misinformation that could only have come from the government, indicating that Anastasiades has gone to great lengths to establish a new exit strategy from the process, as an acceptable arrangement had been formulated on the issue of guarantees and security and it could no longer be used as a credible reason for deadlock. The scheming and management of the news would suggest Anastasiades’ primary concern is winning the blame-game for the collapse of talks he has decided is inevitable, even though he will return to the negotiating table on Tuesday. He will have a new deal-breaker in his bag now that the guarantees have been dealt with – the so-called four freedoms.