Cyprus Mail
CM Regular Columnist Opinion

Political equality in a federal state

UN Secretary general Antonio Guterres with the two leaders in Berlin last November

By Christos Panayiotides

The recent meeting in Berlin has clearly framed the future government structure of Cyprus by prescribing a bizonal, bicommunal federation and by ruling out other arrangements, such as a confederation or the partition of Cyprus.

Furthermore, it has clearly reaffirmed the Joint Declaration of Anastasiades-Eroglou of February 11, 2014, all the prior convergences and the six-point Guterres framework of June 30, 2017, with a view to achieving a strategic agreement paving the way forward for a comprehensive settlement.

It has now become apparent that the UN secretary-general intends to get involved in the proceedings personally. This may be the last attempt to solve the Cyprus problem peacefully.

The one issue which attracted special attention in the statement delivered by Antonio Guterres at the end of the meeting was that of “political equality”.

The target of the deliberations has been clearly set as one Cypriot state, comprising two politically equal communities. The “political equality” of the two communities in the context of a bicommunal federation does not mean equal numerical participation in all federal government branches and administration. However, such political equality should be reflected in various ways: These include the requirement that the federal constitution of the State of Cyprus be approved or amended with the concurrence of both communities; in the effective participation of both communities in all organs and decisions of the federal government; in safeguards to ensure that the federal government will not be empowered to adopt any measures against the interests of one community; and in the equality and identical powers and functions of the two federated states (Paragraph 11 of Appendix I of the Report of the Secretary General dated 8 March 1990). Since then, these positions have been adopted and have been reaffirmed by numerous resolutions of the Security Council.

What must also be said is that an agreement has been reached that the above-mentioned “effective participation” of the two communities at the level of the federal council of ministers will be satisfied by securing at least one (but only one) positive Turkish Cypriot vote. In other words, a decision of the federal council of ministers will be valid and binding even if three Turkish Cypriots (out of the four Turkish Cypriots members of the council) are against the decision. This arrangement represents a significant improvement compared to what is currently theoretically in force under the Cyprus constitution, where one Turkish Cypriot vote is sufficient to block a decision from being taken (this is what is commonly referred to as a “veto” power).

Given the agreement of the two communities, the UN secretary-general and the Security Council on this crucial aspect of the Cyprus problem, the transfer of any vitally important competences to the constituent states (in order to arrive at a “loose” federation) would clearly be a grave mistake, likely to lead to deadlocks. The logic on which a “loose” federation is advocated is that the more the competences allotted to the constituent states, the better, because there will be no grounds for disagreements and conflict between the two communities. Of course, the extreme extension of this logic is a two-state arrangement, where all the competences end up and all the decisions are taken by each one of the two separate states without the need of any consultation with the other state.

I would not be in favour of the federated state of northern Cyprus to be in a position to decide to erect a multi-storey hotel in the area presently taken by the ancient city of Salamis. I am certain that Turkish Cypriots would be equally opposed to the idea of erecting a multi-storey hotel in the area of the Hala Sultan Tekke, in Larnaca. I honestly fail to understand why some people object to the idea of such matters being regulated at the federal level. If they were, there would be a need of at least one (but only one) positive vote on either “side”. The worst scenario is that the hotel will not be erected. So what?

It is well known that EU citizens enjoy what are commonly referred to as the “four freedoms”: free movement of capital, goods and services and free movement and establishment of people. Evidently, the four freedoms, which apply throughout the European Union, cannot be suspended or curtailed within the frontiers of a member state.

Just think of the huge problems that will arise in practice, particularly in relation to the free movement and establishment of persons if, for example, the rules governing social security, pensions, medical care and the rules governing taxation end up being substantially different between the two constituent states. More specifically, how will a permanent resident of Gionelli (in northern Cyprus), who works for an employer based in Aglantzia (in southern Cyprus) be taxed, if the taxation rules of northern Cyprus stipulate that income tax is levied on the basis of the permanent residence of the taxpayer while the taxation rules of southern Cyprus stipulate that income tax is levied on the basis of where the income arises? Of course, one possibility would be to tax the same income twice!

The formulation of the rules governing the functioning of the state (always within the legal framework of the European Union) should primarily be the responsibility of the federal government while the application of the rules should be the responsibility of the constituent states, with the possibility, of course, of appealing to the federal court in the event of the improper application of the rules.


Christos Panayiotides is a regular columnist for the Cyprus Mail, Sunday Mail and Alithia

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