The only way forward in Cyprus is to invent a new form of dialogue European Economic and Social Committee President Luca Jahier has told CNA, stressing the importance of fostering the efforts of civil society to prepare the ground for a solution.
Cyprus was the last stop recently in Jahier’s tour “Peace and Borders in Europe” after Belfast, Sopron and Berlin. In an interview with CNA and referring to his decision to raise awareness about the challenge of peace and borders, he notes that “borders still divide and still create not only physical division but also a division in the mindset,” adding that they also have a huge economic and social impact.
Referring in particular to the division of Cyprus, he notes that it “is a key matter of concern and unfortunately without a clear roadmap for concluding in a positive way, it is very complex.”
The idea, Jahier says, “is not only to say that borders and division matter but also that the only way to go is to create a new way of understanding between the communities, to invent a new form of dialogue, to continue to work to repair, to reconcile what has been divided, to look what are the key common interests on which bridges can be built.”
“The only way to go is to create a new way of understanding between the communities, to invent a new form of dialogue, to continue to work to repair, to reconcile what has been divided.”
To that extent, he refers to the role of the civil society, which he says, in the other places he has visited, played “a major role in building bridges when the walls were existing but also in finding creative ways to break the walls and to prepare society to take the risk.”
Asked to what extent the civil society can play a role in practical terms in a process which is largely political, he says that from what he has seen and heard “there are still initiatives that could be supported and improved on.”
He speaks of the Technical Bicommunal Committees in Cyprus, noting that “they handle very concrete projects.” They deal with subjects that matter to the life of people, he says, adding that this could be improved on and this “implies a lot of economic and social and civic action.”
Jahier gives the example of existing forms of dialogue between employers organizations and trade union organizations from both communities.
“I think that this space of cooperation and understanding should be further developed and trust made more evident and in certain cases perhaps pushed to take some joint and common initiatives in an effort to develop a response to concrete problems,” he says. It could be, he explains, the defense of workers, the development of prospects for small and medium enterprises in the city of Nicosia, where 25% of the island’s population is concentrated.
He also refers to meetings he had with organizations from both sides working to relaunch the idea of a reunified island and highlights the “enormous importance” of the cultural sector. The cooperation between the two communities is already concrete in this sector, he says, adding that it could be further improved on, more supported, more developed to build up trust, confidence and mutual understanding. He also speaks of the positive peacebuilding initiative with the religious leaders of Cyprus.
“I think that this space of cooperation and understanding should be further developed and trust made more evident and in certain cases perhaps pushed to take some joint and common initiatives.”
According to the European official, “building up the argument for reunification in the sectors of social, economic and civil life can help also to create a dynamic that looks to the new opportunities for being together or to find solutions together instead of being divided.”
In a complex and blocked situation, Jahier notes, “the more you invest in what unifies and in creating bridges and trust, the more, you at least prevent the situation from deteriorating a little more and perhaps you create also the opportunity to generate a positive force for a possible innovative solution.”
Replying to a question about what he takes from his Cyprus visit he refers to the immigration matter, pointing out that there is a need to raise awareness in the European space about it and get help.
I think at the European level at least in the Brussels bubble, he says, there is no awareness that this country is supporting the highest percentage of migrants and refugees as a percentage of its population. There is a need to raise the issue that “this particular situation should be considered at the same level as Greece, Italy, Spain and Malta and not forgotten,” he notes, adding that more solidarity and more engagement must be generated from Europe on this.
On the other hand, he continues, “I believe that Cyprus has historically been a crossroads between Europe and the Middle East and today we need more than ever to have some key point of opening dialogue and opening bridges in this world.”
Jahier expresses the view that “Cyprus should consider itself as a good space to become a sort of centre in the Mediterranean for the dialogue between civilizations.” To that effect he gives the example of an initiative by the Nicosia Municipality, through the Committee of the Regions, bringing together the mayors from all parties from Libya.
He also refers to the discovery of gas reserves offshore Cyprus, noting that what initially was considered to be a tremendous gift is becoming “a matter competition, confrontation and appetite, without entering off course to discuss the legality of actions taken by some other authorities.” But we know that the issue of discovery of new energy reserves is a cause of confrontation worldwide, he adds.
This issue has complicated further the situation, he continues referring also to an agreement which has been considered illegal internationally, between Turkey and one of the sides in the Libyan conflict.
Replying to a question on whether he feels that the work done at European Economic and Social Committee level has an impact on EU policy he explains that although the Committee, which has 350 members representing the sectors of economic, social and civil society, has a consultative role it has been a body capable of taking up initiatives and raising the importance of some subjects before others, helping to build up a positive and progressive consensus.
He gives the examples of the Green Deal, the circular economy and EU’s strategic partnership with Africa, pointing out that these are all matters raised at the Committee level for years and have now become priorities of the new European Commission.
“Brexit is the greatest disaster in the successful history of Europe.”
Asked to comment on Brexit, he says that it is “the greatest disaster in the successful history of Europe.” It is not a matter of celebration, he notes, adding however that Europe respects the decision taken by the British.
At the same time, he expresses the view that it is not likely that a deal will be reached on all chapters of negotiation within the time frame provided.
“It took three years to agree on the three main points of the divorce act, we have now less than ten months to agree on the 750 chapters of negotiation,” he says, adding that he “I don’t see that this will be possible, due again to the lack of clarity on the direction they (the British) want to take.”
Jahier speaks of the need to continue to maintain the unity of Europe: “The clarity to defend the European project, what matters for Europe, the internal market, citizens’ rights, the integrity of what is important for us, maintaining the most open possible door and windows, but without breaking our unity and our rules and what we have achieved.”
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third. Repeated rounds of UN-led peace talks have so far failed to yield results. The latest round of negotiations, in July 2017 at the Swiss resort of Crans-Montana ended inconclusively.