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Our View: The National Council has outlived any usefulness it might have had

IT IS VERY difficult to take the National Council seriously, despite its long existence and its supposedly important mission to offer advice to the president on the Cyprus problem. Monday’s leaking of a document outlining the Greek Cypriot positions in the ongoing talks, a few hours after it had been given to the members of the Council by President Anastasiades, was just another argument in favour of scrapping it.

When its members cannot even be trusted to respect the president’s request for confidentiality, there is no justification for keeping it going. Anastasiades had distributed the document he had read to the UN Secretary General at their meeting in Davos, to the leaders during Monday’s meeting on the understanding that it was kept confidential as it contained information about his positions on a range of issues.

The leaking of National Council documents is nothing new. It has been common practice for decades. When he was president, the late Glafcos Clerides, had become so frustrated with the practice that his aides had given documents with partially differentiated text in order to catch the person responsible for the leaks. It worked although the name of the culprit was not made public.

More recently, Anastasiades allowed representatives of the parties to read documents from the talks but under strict rules. A presidency official was with them and they were not allowed to photograph any pages with their phone or even take notes. These are the type of rules usually imposed on ill-disciplined schoolboys rather than grown men dealing with issues of national importance, but such is the level of trust.

Does Anastasiades really need advisors he cannot trust to respect confidentiality? The answer is no and, as we have argued many times in the past, it is absurd for him to consult, let alone seek advice of, party leaders that have a completely different objective. What constructive advice would a party leader openly opposed to a settlement offer a president working for a settlement. On the contrary, he would use any information he is given to stop the president achieving his objective.

Needless to say that the whole episode degenerated into farce, with several opposition parties accusing Anastasiades of being behind the leaking of the document, which he could use as an excuse not to call another meeting of the council and keep the party leaders in the dark about the talks.

The presidency immediately denied these allegations, but contributed to the general absurdity by asking the two websites, which had been given copies of the document, to reveal their source or, at least, confirm that they had not received the copies from the government. Their refusal to do this meant the government remained one of the suspects.

What else needs to happen for the president to realise that the National Council has outlived its usefulness, if it ever had any, other than to create an impression of political unity that never existed.

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