Kasoulides' announcement comes at a critical time when the two communities have stepped up talks to end one of the longest-running conflicts in Europe. Criticizing both Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC) President Mehmet Ali Talat and Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias for making little progress in the talks, Kasoulides warned the two leaders that they did not have much time to clinch a deal before presidential elections are held on the northern part of the island this April.
Kasoulides, who ran for the Greek Cypriot presidency last year and won the first round of elections only to lose in the second round to the current president, was the favorite candidate of the EU and the international community as he was seen to be a “sincere and genuine negotiator for a solution.” Kasoulides was the Greek Cypriot minister of foreign affairs who effectively negotiated his country's entry into the European Union. In an exclusive interview with Today's Zaman, Kasoulides agreed with the argument that this is one of the best constellations of leaders in Cyprus for a solution.
One of the most senior Greek Cypriot politicians, Ioannis Kasoulides, does not oppose Turkish EU membership. Unlike most of his fellow Christian Democrats, who are strongly against the possibility of Turkey entering the bloc, Kasoulides is in favor of Turkish accession, with one condition: The Cypriot problem must first be solved. He declared that he would be one of the strongest supporters of Turkish membership once the Cyprus issue is sorted out
But he underlined that he would have negotiated differently than the two leaders and used a method he calls “cross chapter” talks.
Kasoulides, who is now the vice chairman of the Christian Democrats, the biggest group in the European Parliament, does not oppose Turkish EU membership. Unlike most of his fellow Christian Democrats, who are strongly against the possibility of Turkey entering the bloc, Kasoulides is in favor of Turkish accession, with one condition: the Cypriot problem must first be solved. He declared that he would be one of the strongest supporters of Turkish membership once the Cyprus issue is sorted out.
According to Kasoulides, Turkish Cypriots have not been left out in the cold by the EU after they overwhelmingly said “yes” to the Annan plan and were not admitted into the union. Blaming former KKTC President Rauf Denktaş for the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots, Kasoulides argued that Denktaş did not use the opportunity he had in 2003 in The Hague to help his people.
He strongly disagreed with arguments that a recent European Parliament report by Dutch Christian Democrat Ria Oomen-Ruijten is very pro-Greek Cypriot and thus negatively affects talks on the island.
What is your opinion on the ongoing peace talks between the Cypriot leaders?
I am critical of the method chosen by the two leaders, both of them. Turkish Cypriots pay particular attention to the issue of political equality. I am not judging them, just describing the situation.
The Greek Cypriots pay much attention to security. Of course we should sort out the security issue, by which the two communities will feel secure. On the issue of governance, Greek Cypriots insist on functionality. By functionality they mean the setup shall be as simple as possible so that decisions can be made easily so as not to create political crises and political vacuums. They basically want to avoid political impasses. Why? Because Turkey still keeps the guarantees, the right of unilateral military intervention.
The genuine fear of Greek Cypriots is the possibility of another Turkish intervention. So they are concerned that if there is no functionality, they might then have political crises that could lead to another Turkish military intervention. And then we will all return to the old status quo. So, my approach is this: The solution of the Cyprus problem can only be achieved if the leaders can negotiate cross chapter. They cannot negotiate chapter by chapter. That is why I don’t expect spectacular progress unless they start cross negotiations -- what I also call diagonal talks.
Greek Cypriots have all the seats at the European Parliament, including those reserved for Turks. Is this a fair arrangement?
There was a meeting at The Hague after [the December 2002 EU summit in] Copenhagen during which Mr. Tassos Papadopoulos did not have a negative outlook according to then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Mr. Denktaş was 100 percent negative. He had his opportunity then had he wanted things to be fair with Turkish Cypriots. He did not want to use this opportunity. Now, as soon as there is a settlement, I am ready to resign and offer my seat to a Turkish Cypriot to take it if we are in a period between elections. … Negotiations will continue. The Turkish Cypriots will choose during elections which way they want to go: for a settlement or the status quo.
‘Turkey’s EU membership only after 2018’
‘Turkish candidacy is a difficult dossier. There will be both many advantages and disadvantages. It will take a long time. In my assessment, the 2013-2018 budget will have no provisions for Turkey’s accession. Its accession will be bigger than even that of the UK. It will have a big impact, and then we need to see if there will be provisions in the budget of 2018-2023. I do not think it will be in 2013-2018, and it will be extremely difficult after that date. If the Cyprus problem is resolved, I will be one of the greatest supporters of Turkey joining the EU. Turkey will join the EU; the only question is when.’
European Parliament Turkey rapporteur Ria Oomen-Ruijten’s report has been criticized in Turkey, with some saying it is as if a Greek Cypriot wrote it.
And yet subsequent to this report, precisely on Friday, Jan. 29, a major breakthrough on the chapter on governance and sharing of power took place at talks between the two leaders in Cyprus, something that prompted the United Nations Security Council to talk about “significant progress.” Oomen-Ruijten’s report is fair and balanced.
The Turkish side complains about the call on beginning the process of the return of Famagusta to its rightful owners and the call on the beginning of the withdrawal of Turkish troops. You may argue that these matters are part of the negotiations. But the European Parliament believes that such moves will very much improve the climate of negotiations, in the same way as Greek Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias’s offer of a rotating presidency and the presence of 50,000 settlers did. Gestures must come from both sides.
And time is running out.
They do not have much time. I kept saying that the first round of talks were not necessary. The goal of the first round was to see what the positions of each side were once again, which we have already done for 35 years. We have been explaining our positions for the last 35 years. What for? I would have entered directly into diagonal talks.
Why do you think the Greek Cypriots are against guarantees?
Greek Cypriots are against guarantees because they are afraid that if there is another political crisis, history may repeat itself. In Belgium there is always a political crisis, but though the system is complicated, it functions and decisions are made. In Belgium we do not have the sword of Damocles being held by an outside force that is ready to come in.
Don’t Turkish Cypriots have a point in insisting on guarantees?
Both sides have a point. Both need to feel secure and I don’t contest this. The security arrangement should be put together in such a way that both should feel secure. It has been proven that the guarantees system is asymmetrical. It is in favor of Turkish Cypriots. Turkey has troops in Cyprus while Greece is far away. Also, Greece is not in a position to carry out military expeditions in Cyprus. So the situation is asymmetrical. Perhaps these fears are not rational. We both learned our lessons, and we will not repeat our mistakes. We will probably be wiser. But rational or irrational, we have to address the fears of both communities.
‘Taboo issues are being discussed’
Are you following the Ergenekon investigation?
Taboo issues are now being discussed in Turkey; this is true. But where are the substantial steps? Have the protocols with Armenia been ratified? Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is good at preparing things, but then the deep state and the judiciary come in and stop him. I do follow developments related to Ergenekon, all of which are very interesting. I hope the investigation will serve as a washing machine with which many erroneous things will be removed. But it is too early to tell.
Do you think Talat could lose because of the EU’s reluctance to help the Turkish Cypriots?
I would say much depends on the message both communities want to send. If one side says, I have my state, I have my recognition and I am a member of the European Union, and if the other side says, well, year after year we gain something, I need to say they are both wrong because the present status quo is detrimental to both. If anyone says they will benefit from the status quo, they will be losers in the long run.
Did Talat not insist on a faster method for negotiations?
He did not insist on a faster method. Let’s be truthful. I was insisting and my party was insisting, but they always met and agreed on a certain method for negotiations. I’m sorry, but Mr. Talat was party to the decision on the method. He did not come up and say, I want a solution by this time. We are partners in the negotiation just as in a company with two shareholders who each hold a 50 percent stake. “I’m responsible, and you are not.” Why is he not equally responsible for the speed of the negotiations? They were in agreement on the method.
Who will lose if the status quo persists?
Both sides are losers as long as this status quo remains. With a possible settlement, both will be winners. It will be a win-win situation.
But the Greek Cypriots represent the whole island; they do not have much to lose.
It is not true that we do not have much to lose. It is a debate we have among ourselves. I am among those who say, yes, we are losing as time passes by. We lose on some things while Turkish Cypriots lose other things.
‘Never say never’
What do you think about the argument that now is the best time for a solution?
Of course, in politics there is no “never.” One has to try again, but I agree that this is one of the best opportunities. It should not be lost. If it is lost, future effort will not be as easy as this one. This attempt is not as easy as the one that preceded it and that opportunity was not as easy as the one before it.
Is it possible for the KKTC to one day be recognized?
No, I do not see any chance that it will be recognized. It will never be recognized by the EU. A few countries around the world may recognize the [KKTC], but I don’t believe it will happen in our lifetime.
The Turkish Cypriots have been punished.
The reward for saying “yes” should be peace. There were times when Turkish Cypriots said “no” and Greek Cypriots said “yes.” Why were they punished and in which areas? They are a lot better off than in the past because there is now freedom of movement under certain circumstances. The standard of living has gone up. There is a famous story of isolation. But isolation from what? Can someone whose standard of living has improved be termed isolated? Can someone who tripled his standard of living achieve this under conditions of isolation? On direct trade, they are doing it through Turkey.
These are two different issues.
How are they different? When we send goods to Germany, they go through Trieste. Tell me, what is the difference? They have not been punished; on the contrary, they have been rewarded.