The principle of decentralisation speaks for itself and from then on it is a matter of dialogue to agree together what powers should be allocated to the two constituent states so that the two communities feel more secure, and that one will not cause problems to the other, President Nicos Anastasiades said on Sunday.
The president was responding to a lengthy interview Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci gave to Politis where he spoke about waiting to hear what Anastasiades meant by decentralisation, and also put forward his position that political equality was a red line for the Turkish Cypriots, and was linked to Greek Cypriot demands on security and guarantees.
Speaking at a Maronite religious event in Nicosia on Sunday, Anastasiades said the political equality of the Turkish Cypriot community has been recognised for decades but in the sense that the Turkish Cypriots were demanding it “But if by ‘political equality’ he means a positive vote for every decision of the central government or any other institutional structure, then I am sorry to say, this is not political equality, but it creates political inequality for the reason that it will allow one community to impose itself on the other.”
Asked if he was ready to explain his ideas on the decentralization of powers to Akinci at their upcoming meeting on February 26, Anastasiades said: “I think the principle of decentralisation speaks for itself. From then on it’s a matter of dialogue to agree together what powers will be allocated to the constituent states. If the principle is accepted then it is a matter of dialogue so that the two communities feel safer and so that one will not create problems in the other, that the state will be viable… and that no positive vote [from the other constituent state as a whole] will be required for all decisions.”
In his interview with Politis, Akinci is waiting to hear from Anastasiades his detailed ideas on the notion of a decentralised federation.
According to the newspaper, Akinci’s main point was having Anastasiades spell out his positions with regard to his talk about a decentralised federation when they meet informally on February 26.
Akinci, in the interview also explains why he sees a bizonal, bicommunal federation (BBF) as being the only alternative to the status quo, an reiterated that the issue of guarantees cannot be discussed without it being made clear that the political equality of the Turkish Cypriots must be respected and that they would be partners in a federation, and not opponents.
He also said it was alarming that Anastasiades was using the issue of natural gas to indicate a point at which there might be dysfunctionality in a future federation.
“If energy policy is of vital importance then we must also participate,” he said. “Unfortunately, we see this issue being presented as an example of an issue where the Turkish side can block the functioning of the central government.”
Akinci said that under a federation there would be two constituent states that will take up issues such as health, education, culture, sport etc with central responsibilities for the central government on issues that concern both sides. “So what is the logic of trying to differentiate some of them as vital to one community and others not?” he said.
“But now we understand that he does not agree with the central government either. Think of a meeting of the Cabinet where everything can go through a simple majority. This is not a federation but a single state.”
“We want tangible ideas so that we can understand each other. If the goal is simply joint representation in the EU, the UN and very limited powers [in the central state] so that they do not need the consent of both sides, then we are talking about two states. If this is his idea, tell us and we will evaluate it with good will.”
To a question related to EU membership and the obligations to Brussels as far as a centralised government was concerned, Akinci said: “If this is the situation then why is Mr Anastasiades worried about dysfunctionality? The rhetoric that prevails is that if we give this power to the Turkish Cypriot side, then the ‘minority’ will block the operation of the state. We must leave the logic of majority and minority. It has been written that Cyprus as a small country has the same power in the EU as all the rest.”
Akinci said the two sides needed to be equal partners.
“If we are talking about majority decisions then we are talking about a single state. If we do not have common responsibilities in the central government then we are talking about two states. But if we are talking about a federation then it is necessary for both parties to participate effectively,” he said.
When it comes to concerns by each side on security, he reiterated that the security of one side should not be perceived as a threat to the other. Anastasiades had said the same, he added.
If the Turkish Cypriot side refuses to ditch the guarantees, the Greek Cypriot side would not accept it and if the latter demands zero troops and zero guarantees the Turkish Cypriot side cannot accept it.
“There must be a balance. We need to see how the Turkish Cypriots feel. For example, the withdrawal of troops other than those agreed to remain will be gradual. We have to accept that certain numbers will remain,” he said.
Akinci said this would have been discussed in Crans-Montana in the presence of the UN and the Turkish leadership. “Unfortunately some prevented (Greek Prime Minister Alexis] Tsipras from coming.”
He added that for as long as Anastasiades does not accept political equality, he would not accept an end to the guarantees. “As long as there is the impression that there will be majority power over the minority, then the minority will seek protection, and will seek it only in one direction,” Akinci said.
Asked what he expected to hear from Anastasiades at their forthcoming meeting, Akinci said he was waiting to hear the ideas about decentralisation and that the last time they met last year, the former had not given him any concrete ideas. If there was a genuine proposal for a more decentralised federation, he would not exclude it, he said. “He told me on the phone that he would be prepared.”
Referring to the recent visit by UN envoy Jane Holl Lute, Akinci said she was trying to find common ground and see where the two sides stand. “What matters is to see whether we are talking about the same things… if we have a common vision”.
Things had not become better since Crans-Montana, Akinci said, adding that Cyprus did not deserve to remain a divided country within the EU.
“If we can not agree on the issue of political equality that is crucial for the Turkish Cypriots, then I cannot go ahead, and I say it very clearly. Also, I am not ready to start an open procedure.”
He also dismissed Anastasiades’ recent proposal that they put down their convergences and disagreements on paper saying: “There is no reason to spend more time on that,” he said.
“We are not in the process of writing positions one at the other. The written proposals were given, and this era belongs to the past. Now we are in the time to investigate whether there is a common ground.”
He went into some detail about the negotiations at Crans-Montana and the Guterres framework saying: “We had reached a common point for political equality. Now we see a retreat, with a serious example of what has been said about gas. Mr Anastasiades sent us two messages… how energy is not considered a vital issue for the Turkish Cypriots and that he no longer agrees to the need for a positive vote even at Cabinet level. This is totally unacceptable and leaves no room for us to talk about the Guterres framework.”
Referring to his own relationship with Turkey, which reportedly has been strained since Crans-Montana, Akinci said Turkey was important but it did not mean his views and theirs had to match 100 per cent of the time.
“There may be moments when I see things differently and if I feel the need I can take initiatives. What is frustrating and disappointing is that I did not see any reciprocation from my Greek Cypriot interlocutor,” he added. “I have to say that in Crans-Montana, Turkey tried to help. It is no secret and the United Nations, the EU saw it.”
On the lack of trust between the two leaders, Akinci said trust can be built “not with words but with deeds”. “The Cyprus issue is not our personal concern. We speak on behalf of our communities about the future of this country. We do not have to act on our emotions. These are valid but only up to a point,” he said.
“The federation is not the alternative of a two-state solution. It is the alternative to the status quo. The continuation of the status quo will not be good for the interests of the Turkish Cypriots in the short-term, but I think it will not be good either for the Greek Cypriots in the long run.”