Espen Barth Eide, the Special Adviser of the UN Secretary General for Cyprus, has declared that the Cyprus problem is “completely solvable, but it takes confidence, will and leadership,” and added that all three elements are are now present.
“This momentum should not be allowed to perish,” he said of the unprecedented auspicious start to the talks characterized by the positive behavior on both sides.
Eide, the former Norwegian Foreign Minister spoke to Apostolis Zoupaniotis of the Cyprus News Agency (CNA) after briefing the Security Council.
The full text of the interview is as follows:
Q. At which stage of the negotiations are we now?
A. The first thing we did was to re-establish what actually exists of all convergences, which are still there and which need updating and where have the positions changed. This is now well behind us. That was the first weeks and I want to commend the negotiators for their intense and constructive work on that. There is now a large body of agreement that is built on that.
Then we have been entering into a number of new areas, and they are all described in the statements I read out after each meeting. On some areas we’ve come really far, while on others we see contours of a possible solution, but we haven’t really landed it. And that is not lack of will but it’s because things are related. So sometimes we have to say ‘let’s take a time out on this particular issue, in order to see how another issue is developing and see the connection between them’.
I want also to say, one of the things that is almost of transformative nature is the mutual recognition of the importance of the European Union character of the solution, meaning that the outcome has to have the values and principles but also the practices and the judicial experiences built in the European construction ingrained in it. It’s not only what we call the EU charter, it’s about everything, which means human rights and the way the government relates to citizens and the rights of all kind of people. This is a very strong and advanced body of law that is good for people, it is healthy for you and me and it will be part of the settlement.
Of course what that means in every single detail is a lot of work, which is why the appointment of Pieter van Nuffel to support us. And it’s important to say exactly his title, he is the person or representative of the President of the Commission to the UN Good Offices Mission, so this is what is great to us, so that we are better equipped to ensure to help the sides, when they are looking for EU compatible solutions.
Then there are big outstanding issues. We have an agreement between the leaders and myself, not to reveal details on every single chapter, simply to preserve the integrity of the process. Although we have done a lot, there is quite a lot yet to do. There are many months of hard work ahead of us before we reach some kind of overarching political agreement. Then of course there will also be time where a new constitution has to be written down, which is the work of many lawyers over some time.
Q. Is it fair to say that based on the statements coming out from you and the leaders, right now they are mostly discussing governance?
A. No. That was true some time ago, but we are well beyond now. We are well into other areas. Into property issues, the principles of the territorial readjustments – not figures but criteria. I also mentioned the EU aspects and an aspect that has become even more important lately, that of the economic viability of the new state. Because as you may have noticed, since I first landed on the island, I have been pointing the economic potential in a solution. A united Cyprus that has peace with itself and with neighbors around will have significant growth potential, but you need to prepare for that.
I also have to say that the hard but successful efforts of the Republic of Cyprus of the last years, to move out of the fiscal and financial crisis is something we want to continue into the new federal structures. That’s why I am now inviting the international financial institutions in this as well, in addition to the EU, to support us to think about the issues of public financing, of modern institutions, how to create business friendly, growth friendly institutional framework and how to make sure that when the two economies are merging into one, you are actually reaping the benefits of scale.
This issue, which may be traditionally not a big issue in the traditional talks, I think is very important for every country these days and it is very important to think about this as part of the talks. So the long answer is no, we are well beyond governance.
Q. The role of the EU representative will be a meaningful one or just advisory?
A. Both. Definitely he will have a meaningful role, we want him and not only him, but we also want the Commission. Juncker and I agreed that the Commission is not only sending a person; it’s organizing its internal work across directorate generals to make sure that they are helpful, particularly in two fronts. One, to help us identify how to make the settlement fully compatible with the EU principles and acquis. The other one is how to work with the institutions of the Turkish Cypriot side, so they are ready for EU membership, when the whole island is a de-facto member.
So, this is very important, but it is meant to be an advisory role; it’s a technical legal assistance to the process that is organized by the UN and led by the two leaders.
Q. You have said that at a later stage you will need more the guarantor powers. Have you already started some preparatory discussions on things that concern both sides? Especially the Greek Foreign Minister has said he is expecting no guarantor powers or foreign troops after the solution. Have you discussed these issues?
A. I am in contact with all three guarantor countries capitals. We are discussing both how and when we will work on these issues and of course what the outcome is. But it’s an early stage. I have also met the Greek Foreign Minister three weeks ago and had a very rich and helpful discussion on these issues.
Q. The two out the three guarantor powers are not too stable lately. Does this bother you? Or maybe it works the other way around?
A. What I hear, both from Ankara and Athens, is support to the work I am doing also on this front and they want me to be facilitator of that dialogue which cannot only happen in Cyprus. So, I am optimistic about that, but I would also say that this a good moment for the Cypriots to take charge of their own future. The regional environment is such that the opportunity for Cypriots of both communities to really deal with this may be now more than ever before and may be more than in the future. This is also an opportunity that should be grasped.
Q. At which stage the Secretary General will be more involved? Or his presence is not necessary?
A. I can assure you that Secretary General Ban ki-Moon follows this very closely. I am in frequent contact with him – our team is – and he knows this file inside out. He has a strong moral commitment to be helpful. Of course he will be involved when his presence is at most useful.
Q. Doesn’t he think to call on you and the two leaders together and see how things are moving and evaluate the situation? Are we close to this stage of evaluation?
A. As you know he speaks frequently to both leaders, he meets them here – the latest meeting was with (Turkish Cypriot leader Moustafa) Akinci because Anastasiades he met with the SG many-many times. He also sometimes make phone calls. He will be involved. I am not going to say a particular date or circumstance but he will be involved. That card will be played when it’s most useful.
Q. Last two questions. What was so far the biggest accomplishment in the negotiations and second, what is your biggest fear?
A. I could talk about some substantive achievement but if I want to pick one, I would think the almost complete change of attitude to what the problem is.
A problem used to be proof that this cannot work, or the other side doesn’t want it. Today a problem is an obstacle that we have to remove together. And that permeates from the leaders to the negotiators, to the negotiating teams and inspires people around and I think that particular mental change that “this can actually be done”, and the recognition that in order to do it we have to do it together – because we can only succeed together, we can easily fail on our own but we can only succeed together, I mean speaking of the leaders, that’s the biggest achievement.
If I may add to that something I just raised with the Council just now, that I think statements from leaders on both sides, even last week, on historic issues recognizing that there was significant suffering on the other side and most recently Akinci’s very bold statement from an elected Turkish Cypriot leader, saying that more Greek Cypriots than Turkish Cypriots have suffered in 1974, and similar statements from both Anastasiades and Kasoulides previously, this is very important. Because it is necessary to recognize not only the humanity, but the relevant history of the other in order to look forward. So that was an important achievement.
Then of course I could add a long list of constitutional arrangements, or property commission or whatever, but I will focus on that, because in the Cyprus problem, I would never dare to say it’s easy to solve but it’s utterly solvable. I have seen questions on the global scene where I really wonder even with if maximum will what on the earth we would do about these problems. This problem is perfectly solvable, but you need trust, will and leadership. There was little trust, little will and in most occasions if there was leadership, it was only on one side at a time. Now you have all of these at the same time and that is a momentum we cannot allow to go away.
My biggest fear? I cannot really see a crisis emerge inside the talks. Of course I know it may happen, but I cannot really see where internally to the talks what kind of breakdown will come. I want to be very precise. There is a lot of hard work and of course there can be surprises. I would be more concerned about an external shock. Some kind of event, or change of course, or happening in the neighborhood. And I am not thinking of anything concrete, just looking back on Cyprus’ history, occasionally something else happens which then takes the attention away from the talks.
While we are working on that, again the fact that we have a Security Council that is united 15-0 on supporting, this it is a good buffer to have. Which is why is worthwhile spending some time in New York and not only in Cyprus, to keep the international encouragement.
In past week, on historic issues recognizing that there was significant suffering on the other side and most recently Akinci’s very bold statement from an elected Turkish Cypriot leader, saying that more Greek Cypriots than Turkish Cypriots have suffered in 1974, and similar statements from both Anastasiades and Kasoulides previously, this is very important. Because it is necessary to recognize not only the humanity, but the relevant history of the other in order to look forward. So that was an important achievement.