By Jean Christou
President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci on Wednesday night shared their common vision for a post-settlement Cyprus, stressing that the financial cost of the status quo was greater than the short-term cost of implementing a solution.
In a show of support to the chambers of commerce on both sides and for the work they are doing in bringing businesses together across the divide, the two leaders attended an event to showcase the chambers’ Leading by Example (LbE) programme, from which some of the confidence building measures discussed in parallel with the talks have originated.
Addressing an audience of business people and diplomats, both Anasatasiades and Akinci outlined how they saw a future Cyprus and the benefits reunification would bring.
Anastasiades said according to a number of studies, it has been estimated that with a settlement there is a potential that the all-island GDP could double in 20 years’ time. There would be significant additional annual income creation in the tourism, construction and transport – mainly shipping – industries, as well as in financial and insurance activities.
“And it is obvious that the growth of these sectors will create spill-over effects for wholesale and retail trade and the overall lift to economic activity will significantly reduce the unemployment rate,” he said.
Anastasiades said he understood that there were concerns as regards the economic cost of a solution “but, based on the above, I am confident that the economic benefits once a solution is to be reached offset and neutralise any temporary or short-term economic costs to be incurred.”
Akinci who echoed the benefits of a solution for the economy said that during his visit to Brussels last week, he told EU leaders that a lot of financial support would be needed for Cyprus.
“It is with great satisfaction that I witnessed the awareness of EU’s high-ranking officials that the cost of the continuation of division is higher than the cost of the solution,” he said.
Akinci said a federal Cyprus, being an EU member would bring with it many opportunities as well as responsibilities. “There are lessons to be learned from the existing examples, but I think the biggest lesson we must take with us is that membership itself does not guarantee welfare and a better life unless we act responsibly and do what we must do as a country.”
He said Cyprus was small and resources scarce. “Lack of cooperation is leading to the waste and overexploitation of our resources,” he added.
Anastasiades said the combination of political and economic security and stability with Cyprus’ capacity as an EU member-state, along with the significant natural gas reserves in the Levantine basis would further highlight the competitive advantages provided by the island’s geographic position and the geostrategic role Cyprus could assume as an investment attraction.
As a result this would bring easier access to international finance, the stimulation of economic sectors that are now experiencing problems and a drastic reduction in unemployment.
“It is clear that the unacceptable status quo does not negatively affect only one of the two communities, but both communities and the Cypriot people. Therefore, my vision, which coincides with the vision shared by my friend, Mustafa Akinci, is to reach a settlement that will end the anachronism related with the current situation and provide hope and the prospect of a better future for all Cypriots, and in particular the younger generations,” he said.
This vision, he said, could only be accomplished through reaching a final, lasting, viable and fair settlement, “with no winners and losers” as such but “most importantly” it would finally allow Cypriots to be able to freely decide by themselves the future and the fate of their own country.
In that respect, Anastasiades said, Cyprus, in an era of growing regional and global insecurity and of newly-emerging asymmetrical threats, had the unique opportunity to become a paradigm, a model country and a symbol of hope that would demonstrate “that long-standing conflicts, even between communities with different ethnic or religious orientations, can be resolved once the common aim is to reach peace, and achieve collective social and economic collaboration and prosperity”.
A settlement would also contribute towards improving the relations between Greece and Turkey, provide an impetus to Turkey’s EU accession negotiations and positively help the efforts of Turkey in satisfying its growing energy needs, he added.
Akinci also called for the economic disparity between the sides to be narrowed prior to a solution so that Turkish Cypriots would be able to shoulder their own economic activity in federal Cyprus.
The Cypriot people did not deserve the status-quo and had no right to pass this on to future generations, he said. “But more importantly, I think we all need to realise that this problem is an obstacle for us to maximise our potential,” he added.
Both leaders spoke of their commitment to the talks. Akinci, in addition, stressed the importance of making people aware of what kind of solution would be coming, and of having them involved in the process.
“I have always believed that increasing the quality of life of all Cypriots should be our ultimate aim. No political or economic design can be sustainable if we exclude the people from it. Our people must have a clear understanding of what the solution will bring and what the day after will look like,” he said. “The future should not be blurred and both communities should have confidence that the day after will be better than the day before.”
Anastasiades said both leaders would do their utmost so that the current opportunity was not lost. “We owe it to our children and the future generations of this country. We owe it to the people of Cyprus and their longing to live in a modern and thriving European country,” he said.
Akinci said they had had a good beginning and were progressing “reasonably well”. “But what is even more important than a good beginning is undoubtedly to be successful in the end, and hopefully without causing yet another disappointment,” he said.