EXCLUSIVE / If no solution is found for the Cyprus issue, the Turkish Cypriot side will “inevitably” grow closer to Ankara, Mehmet Ali Talat said in an interview with EurActiv.
Mehmet Ali Talat was the second President of the Turkish Cypriot community from 2005-2010. He is currently the leader of the Republican Turkish Party CTP.
Talat spoke to Sarantis Michalopoulos.
How do you view the negotiations on the Cypriot issue? Are you optimistic?
The negotiations are going quite well. This time, I am much more hopeful.
Because there are some important changes compared to the past.
Actually, starting from 2008 [Demetris] Christofias was elected as Cypriot President. I was the president in the north, and the negotiations restarted immediately. The negotiations lasted for 1.5 years. In that period, a lot of developments and convergences were achieved. We had divided the Cyprus issue into six subjects. Governance and power sharing, which was the actual conflict that created the Cypriot problem, the economy, EU relations, property, territories and the guarantees or security. Security and territories were untouched. Property a little bit. But the other three were very well developed, and a lot of convergences were achieved, and these were written down.
After the elections, when I left the office and Dervi? Ero?lu took it, he stopped everything for five years. Then Mustafa Ak?nc? was elected as (the) Turkish Cypriot president, and in the meantime, Nikos Anastasiades was elected in the Greek Cypriot side. The two leaders reexamined the convergences that were reached, approved them and continued forward.
But in the meantime, the European Court of Human Rights made a very important decision regarding the property issue, and said that the rights of current users of the property are equal with the owners of the properties. That means that the current users have the same rights with the entitled/registered owners. We cannot create human rights violations while we are rectifying the human rights of others. Giving rights to those who have lost their properties should not violate the rights of the current users.
So, these are two elements that change the whole scene of the property issue. There are two issues left: territory and security.
Nicosia rejects the creation of a new state, and wants the continuation of the Republic of Cyprus.
All these are psychological arguments.
What do you mean?
They have no real basis. What’s the meaning of the continuation of a state, or establishing a new state?
You will need to ask to rejoin the EU.
No. We are not asking that. We will naturally be part of the EU with a solution. We are not asking for a new application for EU membership. The EU also supports this idea. All this argument is artificial. You see, Greek Cypriots say the state should continue, (and) we say we will establish a new state. Greek Cypriots will say (that) since there will not be any new application for EU membership and UN membership, this is the continuation of a state.
But what about the continuation of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) in the new state? It has civil servants who want retirement rights, (and) will continue to be paid by this system. Turkish Cypriot court decisions, TRNC laws, which are not contradictory to the new agreement will continue to be enforced. So the meaning of this is both a new state, and a continuation of the former states. You cannot put a pure description of the new state on the table. A kind of constructive ambiguity if you like.
What will be the cost if no solution is found for the Cyprus issue for your side? Will it bring you closer to Turkey?
Of course. It is inevitable.
Is there a ‘plan B’ for that?
No. We are very close to Turkey and we have to be, otherwise, we will not be able to continue our statehood. We have a lot of institution,s and for the continuation of them, it is necessary to act together and get help from Turkey.
Regarding the guarantees, Athens doesn’t want them and Ankara insists.
Of course they don’t want (them), but this (is) logical. Since Greek Cypriots are in the majority, they don’t need guarantees.
Being a member of the EU doesn’t provide you with security?
Being a member of the EU grants a guarantee. But is it enough? If you ask the ordinary people, they say no. Because in 1963, despite the presence of UN troops, despite the presence of British troops, the Greek Cypriot onslaught on Turkish-Cypriots enclaves could not be stopped. A lot of Turkish Cypriots were killed, and expelled from government. If you ask the ordinary people, they say they don’t accept the guarantee of the EU, because the EU cannot (make) guarantees to Turkish Cypriots.
What is the role of the EU in this negotiation process? Does it give it an added value?
In 2004, when the Annan plan was on the table, EU membership was a very attractive element for the solution. But over the course of time, when Turkish Cypriots got highly disappointed by the rejection of the Greek Cypriots, they lost their desire and confidence for EU membership.
For the time being, the EU is not a point of attraction for Turkish Cypriots, as it was in the past. At least Turkish Cypriots want to be part of the international community and international law. Because now Turkish Cypriots are out of them, and this is a big obstacle. We cannot have direct flights to Nicosia, and isolation is making Turkish Cypriots suffer. They want to get rid of isolation by a solution.
Do you share the view that a referendum will take place in April?
I cannot give a specific time but what I can say is concluding a solution would be most beneficial until March.
Why in March?
Because there is an election on the Greek Cypriot side in May. Approaching May, nationalism grows on the Greek Cypriot side, so a considerable time in advance would be the best if a document and agreement are concluded. The referendum might take place in June, or even July. We need to have a text on the table in order to start a campaign for “Yes”, otherwise, without knowing the content of the solution, how can we organise a campaign?
What’s happening between Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot side on the water pipeline issue? Is there any development on the issue?
Turkey wanted us to have the rights for the governance of this water, but the former government actually made an agreement with Turkey, saying that the operational side for financing the water plants would be through private-public partnership type of organisation. But the proposal that came from Turkey was a kind of privatisation of the water distribution. The party, of which I am the leader, is not that comfortable with a privatisation. That caused the problem between Turkey and the government of the TRNC. We are still negotiating, and we are seeking ways to solve it. We will solve it. Turkey does not want to harm Turkish Cypriot institutions.
Is it true that the cost of a solution of the Cyprus issue is estimated at €30-40 billion?
That is said for the solution of the property problem. (But) we cannot estimate. Who is going to pay this money? Is it going to be paid by bonds issued by a united Cyprus, by the constituency states, or some money is going be collected through a donors’ conference, which took place in 2004 for example? This is acomplicated issue, that cannot be resolved in a second.
I guess you will have to know in advance the cost of a solution.
You cannot. This will come out during the implementation, and this is better. Because if somebody knows that she or he will not get back his property, he may not vote “Yes”.