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Eide: taxpayers should not have to foot the bill for a solution

Espen Barth Eide (CNA)

The premise surrounding the financing of a Cyprus settlement is not to leave it to the taxpayers to foot the bill but to get the money upfront, UN Special Adviser Espen Barth Eide, said in an exclusive interview with the Cyprus News Agency.

Eide said that eight months of talks between Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci, had covered a lot of ground, but “we cannot say that there will be a settlement in a couple of weeks”.

“There are a few major issues, but then there are all the details that will follow from these issues. So, we take the time we need, but as the leaders say themselves, we should not lose time, because momentums do not last forever,” he said.

The financing of the settlement and his contacts to this end were the main focal points of the interview.

According to CNA, the UN envoy places great emphasis on the European dimension of the settlement, while on the issue of security and guarantees he believes that when there is sufficient trust and credibility, this would be the right time “in getting the security issues right”.

Asked whether his invitations to the concerned parties to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos later this coming week, he was considering it as a step towards more progress in the negotiations, Eide said that even if he were not part of the World Economic Forum himsel, Cyprus would still be high on the agenda.

Recounting the past eight months of talks between the leaders, Eide said: “In both my and their view… a lot of ground has been covered, but it’s very natural, logical and normal that at some stage you come to some of the most difficult issues.”

He said it was “complicated terrain” and wanted to make it clear that a solution was not a few weeks away. “That is not the case—but it is clearly within the reach of these two leaders, in my view,” he said, adding that his observation was that the commitment of Anastasiades and Akinci to finding a solution was very real and had actually been strengthened during the process.

“So, we take the time we need, but as the leaders say themselves, we should not lose time, because momentums do not last forever and almost everyone in the (UN Security) Council – actually everyone – was echoing this idea that this historic opportunity must be reached”.

“But I strongly insist that one of the things we have brought more emphasis on over the last months is the economic aspects of the settlement, Eide said. “Because as all business leaders I know in Cyprus tell me, the division has a lot of negative opportunity cost and that the reunification of Cyprus will open up economic opportunities; which are jobs, prosperity, opportunity and security as well for everyone. To achieve those results, I think it’s important to not only talk to the public institutions but also engage with the national private community,” he added.

Asked whether a way to finance the solution had been found, Eide it was a big issue which they had been working on for a long time.

He said that he was seeing “a lot of good people thinking about this, very creatively—both about opportunities for public financing but also for private sector capital to be connected to settlement plans, as long term investments”.

“I have had concrete discussions with people who are genuinely interested in this,” he added.

Asked if this aspect was going to be a heavy burden on both communities. Eide said: “The premise for this is not to leave this to the taxpayers in Cyprus, but that we get real money to pay for the upfront cost”.

“People talk about cost as if it’s money you will throw away; but it is actually money that people will get, they will circulate; we assume you will get money—public, private or combination—and a lot of people will get compensation. This money does not go away from Cyprus, but it comes to Cyprus. It’s the other way around; it’s money coming in, not money going out”.

As regards to the cost and benefit of a Cyprus solution that some estimate at 25 billion euros, Eide made clear that he had never commented on those figures, because nobody knows.

“You can’t know. I can say one thing, every figure I have seen is probably wrong, because it is based on relatively brute calculations without actually knowing all the realities of what the property deal will entail,” he said.

Asked whether this applied to the territorial aspect of the issue as well, Eide responded: “Exactly. I can say safely that the numbers that are out there are probably wrong. But I don’t have a right number yet, because I can’t have it—you need to know more”.

This was why progress on these issues was important, he added. “For all these experts to be able to work on financing they need to know the parameters – what there is to be financed; and until the leaders agree on those issues, that work can’t really start. So, we now gathered Cypriot experts, very good people in the economy working group, as well as IMF, World Bank, ECB, European Commission, and now also private sector —I have been talking to people in London; a lot of people, some of the best brains in the world on these issues are now working on Cyprus, but you still have to get some input to get output and that input is still not there”.

In another questioned about an interview he gave to the Cyprus Greel-language weekly newspaper, “Kathimerini”, regarding the issue of buying property that if a Greek-Cypriot wishes to buy property in the Turkish Cypriot constituent state and also settle there without having voting rights it was already settled and agreed, Eide referred to what he also said that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

“The general premise of these talks, as every other talk I know about, is that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. But I was saying, and I think it is well known that the settlement shall be in line with European Union principles which implies the right of vote for instance and these answers flows from that,” he said.

Asked if different criteria applied to the issue of properties, Eide clarified that the problem was not future property. The problem, he said, “is not the market. The problem is who will get a specific property back? Will you get an alternative property? Will you get money? That’s the pieces of the property deal, but as I also told the council again, this strong emphasis on the European nature of the settlement – not only European Union but Council of Europe and Human Rights Corps – will permeate the agreement and all its aspects and has had a transformative effect on many of the positions”.

Eide was also invited to elaborate on a reference made in the UN Secretary General’s report that his sense from talking to the parties was that they are ready to discuss the international aspects of the Cyprus problem.

“We agree that this is at the end, but they are preparing themselves for the time where this can be done and that involves many parties. It involves the two sides obviously first and foremost; it involves the Security Council and key players. But preparations are being done; it does not mean that the conclusions are there and that the actual negotiations are happening,” Eide said.

On guarantor powers, Eide said: “Since this process is leader-led, and since the actual negotiations on this issue have not started, I am not the right one to say what will be the outcome of this. What I have said – and I repeat – is that the three guarantor powers are communicating to me, to each other, and to the rest of the world that they want to see this problem solved and that they realise that this has something to do with themselves; that they have to do something with their own policies, in order to get there”.

Asked if it were possible to have a solution on every other aspect except the guarantees, the presence of troops and the security, the UN envoy said: “I think no and yes”. No, he explained, “in the sense that you can only wrap up the whole package of issues together in the final goal; so you will not have parked every other issue. But I think there is a moment where there is sufficient trust and credibility in where we are getting in all the other chapters, which is the right time in getting the security issues right”.

He underlined that the security and guarantee chapter had military aspects but the key to a good solution lay elsewhere, Eide said. “It lies in the overall settlement and it’s actually quite a serious sentence; both communities equally need to know what comes out of this; it will give them a better sense of security and less fear than what history brought. It is also the presence of troops and guarantees in these issues, but it is a broader issue. Thankfully, neither side wanted to start there, they all wanted to get there as we moved to the end”.

The next steps include the next leaders meeting on January 29, after Davos. Eide said during the meeting decisions will be taken on how to move forward from there.
“It is the leaders in Cyprus that own the process, which means it is not up to me to decide what is the speed or pace or format of the talks. This is something that they decide,” he said.

Speaking of the presence of the guarartor powers at Davos, Eide said: “Maybe seen from a Cypriot perspective, you would think that they all came because of Cyprus, but they do other things. The UK, and Turkey and Greece also have other engagements in the world and their agendas are very full of a lot of issues that have very little to do with Cyprus.”
“We are trying to take the pulse of the world and our point from the managing board was that, just like we invite people from Colombia, the Middle East and from ongoing processes, we think it is very relevant and interesting to have Cyprus that is now high on the agenda. I think even if I didn’t work there, Cyprus would have been high on the agenda anyway, because people see that something is moving”, he explained.

Cyprus, he added, is one of these cases where the international community stands united in hope that there is an outcome. “That’s the reason we think it’s a good idea to have the leaders driving the process now in there:.

Finally, Eide pointed out “Cyprus is now high on the agenda and a lot of people would like to meet them and listen to them”.
Asked whether after an agreement is reached and before the referendums, there is going to be a large implementation period, Eide said that there were certain things that had to be ready for that.

“You need transition phases on certain issues and they will probably have different lengths depending on the issue. I think the key to say how long is as long as necessary and as short as possible. But this must be clear! What is most important is that before an implementation you are clear on this, so that it is not on the loose. I think one thing that is very important for both communities – and not the least that’s been an issue in the Greek-Cypriot community – is there must not be a vacuum. We don’t want a vacuum. We go from one state of affairs to a new one with clarity and authority, so that there is no back door out of this…”. (CNA)

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