Friday

20th May 2022

Cyprus picks next president amid peace talks hangover

  • Anastasiades (c) with Turkish Cypriot leader Akinci (r) and UN secretary general Gutteres (l). Their attempt at peace failed last July (Photo: UN Photo/Jean-Marc Ferré)

Greek Cypriots will vote on Sunday (28 January) to elect their next president amid a mix of economic optimism but doubts over the future of the peace process in the EU's last divided country.

Incumbent president Nikos Anastasiades, from the centre-right Democratic Rally (Disy) is favourite to win a second mandate.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • Cyprus exited a bailout programme in 2016 and growth is expected to reach 3.5 percent this year, but doubts hang over the future of the peace process in the EU's last divided country (Photo: Leonid Mamchenkov)

"There is a high chance that he will be re-elected. But it's not a guaranteed win," said Amanda Paul, from the EPC think tank in Brussels.

Anastasiades was elected in 2013 at the height of a financial crisis, just a month before Cyprus agreed to a €10billion bailout from the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Cyprus exited the bailout programme in 2016, and Anastasiades is running for re-election as growth is expected to reach 3.5 percent this year, with employment also on the rise.

According to one recent poll, 51 percent of Cypriots feel the economic situation was better than a year ago.

Anastasiades has said he would pursue his economic policies, while putting more emphasis on tourism, small and medium enterprises and research and development.

But social issues and the lasting consequences of the financial crisis have been put forward as key issues by his two main opponents.

The first is Stavros Malas, an independent candidate backed by the Communist Progressive Party of Working People (Akel) who says Anastasiades "has crushed both the workers and the middle class".

Malas, who was previously Anastasiades' opponent in the 2013 run-off, is the most likely candidate to face him in the run-off on 4 February.

Major mortgage problems

The other main challenger is Nicholas Papadopoulos, from the Democratic Party (Diko), who has promised to create a public agency to manage non-performing loans (NPLs) such as mortgages that people cannot repay.

According to the European Central Bank, over 33 percent of loans were still non-performing in June last year - compared to an average of 4.6 percent in the EU - including 52.7 percent of loans in the private sector.

However, with foreign investment returning to Cyprus and the banking system reformed after the crisis, "Anastasiades is in a relatively comfortable position," Paul said.

Blame game

The outgoing president is in more of a hotspot over his handling of the negotiations with Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci last year.

The two leaders had been trying to solve the 40-year old island's division and create a so-called "bizonal and bicommunal federation".

Talks failed in July at a UN-brokered conference in Crans-Montana, Switzerland, over the issue of the security of the island if the two parts were reunited, and over how the power would be shared between the two communities.

Anastasiades has put the blame of the talks' failure on Turkey, saying that Ankara refused to consider removing its troops from the island and giving up its 'right of intervention'.



Turkey, as well as Greece and the UK - the former colonial power - are guarantors of the island's security since its independence in 1960. Turkey used its right of intervention in 1974 after a Greek coup toppled Cypriot president Makarios.

The island has been divided since then, and Turkey maintains over 35,000 troops in the northern part - which it is the only country to recognise.

Next week, the UN Security Council is expected to renew for six months the mandate of its peace force, which has been on the island since 1964.

"For there to be a Cyprus solution, it is necessary to have the positive cooperation and contribution of Turkey," Anastasiades said earlier this month.

But many, including in Cyprus, say that talks failed because of his inflexibility.

"Talks didn't collapse because of Turkey's intransigence. People who were present at the talks say that Turkey actually displayed a greater amount of flexibility than many people expected," Paul noted.

She said that although Greek Cypriots were right to demand an end to the Turkish guarantee and occupation, they should have taken into account the Turkish Cypriots' desire to keep Turkish troops for a certain period after a peace settlement.

But she pointed out that Anastasiades was under domestic pressure.

"Anastasiades wants a solution but it's not just about him. Unfortunately politics in the south is very populistic," she said.

TV debate

In a TV presidential debate last week, Malas said that Anastasiades missed a "historic chance" last year, and that his first priority would be to resume negotiations with the Turkish Cypriots under the UN umbrella.



Papadopoulos said he would seek a new peace conference if he was elected, but he blamed Anastasiades and his predecessors for "unacceptable and dangerous compromises" towards the Turkish Cypriots.

Whoever wins the election, however, few people expects talks to resume soon.

The situation is "not any clearer now than it was six months ago over how this process is going to go ahead," Paul observed.

On one hand, she said, "Greek Cypriots seem to think that they can go on as normal, that they can just pick up as they left off."

On the other hand, "the Turkish Cypriots want a new process, with a clear timeframe and a proper roadmap."

Much will depend on Turkey, which is unpredictable - given the increasingly nationalistic and authoritarian positions of president Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In northern Cyprus, elections held early January were won by the National Unity Party (UBP), which follows on a harder line than the entity's leader Akinci.



But three weeks after the vote, four parties are still trying to form a coalition, and the line of the future Turkish Cypriot authorities over the peace talks remains uncertain.

If talks were to resume, Greek Cypriot officials recognise however that they would have to be better prepared than last year, in order to propose concrete solutions to obtain Turkey's withdrawal, while reassuring the Turkish Cypriots over their power in a future unified state.

According to the recent poll, 53 percent of Greek Cypriots would favour of a compromise settlement, while 33 percent would prefer the status quo, and 12 percent neither.

"The atmosphere is not right now" for a breakthrough, Paul said.

"Unless there is a change of approach, more broadly, by the Greek Cypriots, it doesn't matter who comes to power. The same things would happen. Talks and talks and talks, and then nothing."

Cyprus talks up in the air

A week after the failure of negotiations to reunite the islands, Greek Cypriots are calling on Turkish Cypriots to reaffirm their commitment to the process.

Analysis

Turkey holds key at last-ditch Cyprus talks

The Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders meet from Monday to Wednesday, before an multilateral conference on Thursday that could endorse a reunification settlement. Talks could still fail on Turkey's role.

Interview

Cyprus seeks EU support on reunification

EU states should be "more vocal" with Turkey and play a more political role on reunification, Cyprus' EU ambassador told EUobserver.

Cyprus' deja-vu choice for president

Greek Cypriots will elect their president on Sunday (4 February), facing the same choice as at the previous vote five years ago: incumbent Nikos Anastasiades against Stavros Malas.

EU warns Turkey over 'threat' to Cyprus

The European Commission called on Ankara to refrain from doing "damage to good neighbourly relations", after Turkish vessels stop a rig from reaching a gas drilling zone.

Opinion

Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine - the case for granting EU candidacy

Granting EU candidacy status to Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine will firmly anchor their ties with Brussels — and enable the EU to secure its place in the Black Sea region, connecting Europe to China and energy-rich Central Asia, bypassing Russia.

Opinion

The EU Parliament Covid inquiry: the questions MEPs must ask

A basic lack of transparency around the EU's vaccines procurement negotiations has prevented effective public and parliamentary scrutiny. It has also made it impossible to answer some of the key questions we put forward here.

News in Brief

  1. Half of Gazprom's clients have opened rouble accounts
  2. Macron seeks 'quick' EU answer on Moldova application
  3. German chancellor to tour Western Balkans
  4. UN: more than 8,000 civilians killed or injured in Ukraine
  5. EU agrees new minimum gas storage target
  6. EU justice agency to have more roles on war crimes
  7. More than 50,000 Ukrainians refused entry into EU in 2021
  8. Germany open to EU treaty change 'if required'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic delegation visits Nordic Bridges in Canada
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersClear to proceed - green shipping corridors in the Nordic Region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers agree on international climate commitments
  4. UNESDA - SOFT DRINKS EUROPEEfficient waste collection schemes, closed-loop recycling and access to recycled content are crucial to transition to a circular economy in Europe
  5. UiPathNo digital future for the EU without Intelligent Automation? Online briefing Link

Latest News

  1. MEPs urge sanctioning the likes of ex-chancellor Schröder
  2. MEPs call for a more forceful EU response to Kremlin gas cut
  3. Catalan leader slams Pegasus use: 'Perhaps I'm still spied on'
  4. More EU teams needed to prosecute Ukraine war crimes
  5. French EU presidency struggling on asylum reforms
  6. EU states warn of looming food-price crisis
  7. Ultraconservatives in Putin's shadow
  8. Nordic Bridges unveil latest highlights of Spring programme

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us