President Nicos Anastasiades is ‘considering’ how the National Council (NC) can be made to operate effectively, and will be informing party leaders of his decisions on the matter right after the parliamentary elections, the government spokesman said on Tuesday.
Speaking to reporters at the presidential palace, Nicos Christodoulides said all NC participants have at times acknowledged there are problems with the advisory body’s functioning.
This has been underlined by recent leaks and part-publication of minutes, Christodoulides added.
In March Anastasiades suspended the NC, after EDEK leader Marinos Sizopoulos published parts of National Council minutes, in a breach of protocol, though he revealed nothing new.
A few weeks prior to that, another non-revelatory paper circulated at a previous meeting was leaked to two media outlets within hours on a day when it had been agreed that party leaders would be given access to more documents relating to the peace process.
The move prompted Anastasiades to rethink the deal and in the meantime to brief party leaders separately. The talks’ documents can be accessed at the palace but those who view them cannot take copies or notes.
The developments have riled opposition party leaders, most of whom have accused Anastasiades of using the pretext of NC leaks to enforce an information blackout on the Cyprus reunification talks, though the accusation of being kept in the dark preceded the leaks.
“The President of the Republic has the final say when it comes to the negotiations, but at the same time we believe that the institution of the National Council, if properly functioning, can achieve the desired results,” said Christodoulides.
“Collective action is always better than having only a small team handling this type of issues,” he said, alluding to the handling of the Cyprus talks.
The spokesman clarified that the president’s goal ultimately is to reinstate NC meetings, provided however that the problems plaguing it have been sorted out.
The confidentiality of what is discussed at the NC must be safeguarded, Christodoulides added.
He neither denied nor confirmed whether Anastasiades is considering scrapping the keeping of minutes of NC sessions.
It’s understood that the president’s temporary suspension of the NC, opting for one-on-one briefings to party leaders, is aimed at preventing the opposition from exploiting the Cyprus peace talks during the election campaign.
The legislative elections are being held on May 22.
Commenting on the issue, AKEL chief Andros Kyprianou said it would be better for the NC to convene, provided however the body operates effectively.
Refraining from revealing NC minutes, or what other participants say during sessions, should be among the guidelines, he suggested.
After his meeting with the president Papadopoulos, which focused on some economic proposals to ease things for the poor, the DIKO leader said he had reiterated to Anastasiades the request for the National Council to convene.
“We believe that it is not effective and productive to be informed in person, in separate meetings with the party leaders,” he said, adding that the issues should be treated as collective consultation “and we want to hear the views of other parties, particularly in matters relating to our own suggestions”.
“We do not see a different approach from the Turkish side. Instead we see a continuing intransigence, hostile moves, a new financial protocol, naturalisation efforts for tens of thousands of settlers, interconnection of water… and then the leader of the occupation regime tell us that there progress. We do not see such progress. “
For his part, Giorgos Lillikas, head of the Citizens Alliance, insisted that with his stance the president is deliberately keeping the parties – and the public at large – in the dark about the Cyprus talks.
He said that earlier the presidential palace had agreed to grant access to talks-related documents to a team of lawyers from the Citizens Alliance.
But at the last minute this was cancelled, Lillikas claimed. His party was later informed that there was no need for them to review the documents, as they were practically identical to the so-called Downer papers, which were already known.
He was alluding to former UN Special Adviser Alexander Downer.
Ruling DISY chief Averof Neophytou sided with the president.
“I absolutely agree that the people should not be kept in the dark. But I wonder, does anyone think that we will have a solution of the Cyprus problem by May 22 [election day] and that the people will be kept in the dark until then?
“Better that we keep the Cyprus issue away from the populism of the legislative elections,” he added.