IT IS DIFFICULT to see the appointment of a Greek Cypriot negotiator (or should we say interlocutor) for the Cyprus talks as a step in the right direction, especially if the objective is to reach a settlement within a reasonable period of time. In fact, removing the leaders from the negotiating process is more than likely to cause delays as no decision would be taken and the appointed negotiators would have to consult their respective bosses before agreeing or finalising even the most trivial issue.
Only AKEL expressed such concerns at Tuesday’s National Council meeting which appointed career diplomat Andreas Mavroyiannis as negotiator. President Anastasiades had pledged during the election campaign to appoint a negotiator, presumably in order to keep his hard-line allies at DIKO that did not trust him on the Cyprus problem, on side. He also made another minor concession to the National Council, the decisions of which would be binding if they had 75 per cent support (each leader would represent the percentage of his or her party in the last parliamentary elections).
In this way, the president has turned the National Council from advisory to decision-making body, even though he would only need the support of the DISY leader, who represents more than 30 per cent of the voters, to prevent any decision from being binding. While this may just be a tactical manoeuvre, there is still a growing sense that the Cyprus problem will from now on be handled by committee – not a good sign.
On the president’s suggestion, six working groups or committees dealing with the main issues of the negotiations such as territory, property, security etc would also be set up to assist the National Council and negotiator. It is as if the peace talks would be starting from scratch and the working groups would have to come up with new proposals for every chapter. But what new ideas could they come up with after three-and-a-half decades of talks. One newspaper, quoted former president George Vassiliou, on hearing about the working groups, as asking: “Do you not want a settlement? Are we going to start from the beginning?”
Perfectly legitimate questions any rational person would have asked on hearing about the appointment of a negotiator, the decision-making powers of the National Council and the setting up of working groups to assist both. Perhaps the president hopes these concessions to his hard-line allies would keep them on side while the negotiations are in progress, but it is a risky game, in which he could find himself trapped.