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21 April, 2021
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Pantelides - Sözen‏: Swiss governance model instead of bizonal federation

Interview with Leonidas Pantelides and Ahmet Sözen‏

Andreas Paraschos

Andreas Paraschos

What is the significance of the title of your book, Plan C?

Ahmet: Plan A which aims to establish a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation on the basis of a "comprehensive settlement" on the principle "nothing is agreed until we agree on everything" and setting up a federal state in day 1 has been tried since the High-Level Agreements of 1977 and 1979. However, this has not produced any breakthrough to date. Due to this, various political actors on both sides of the UN divide started to talk about a Plan B as an alternative. Different people mean different things by this, but basically it refers to non-federal options. All the island-wide public opinion polls show, however, that Plan B does not have the chance to be endorsed by the majorities of both sides. The only alternative solution that has the chance to pass from the majorities on both sides is a bi-zonal, and bi-communal federation. In our plan, Plan C, we renew the idea and offer a new methodology of reaching the same goal as in Plan A, simply through following a different methodology.

Our main aim is to contribute to the public debate with novel ideas

In English, it also happens that C stands for Cyprus. It is also the first word in a lot of other important concept-words.

What do you hope to achieve with this publication? How does it connect with the negotiating process between the leaders? Is it complementary? And, what of the Guterres Framework?

Ahmet: Our main aim is to contribute to the public debate with novel ideas. Unfortunately, the current public debate on both sides got narrowly restricted to Plan A and Plan B. The negotiation process between the two leaders has been stuck since the collapse of the talks in Crans-Montana. In that sense, we feel like we need fresh ideas. The UN Secretary General also indicated this in his report to the UN Security Council. We truly hope that our ideas would contribute to the current debate regarding the new methodology sought in the resumption of the Cyprus inter-communal talks. In that regard, we definitely think that our ideas could be complementary to the future negotiation process. Furthermore, our ideas can also help fill in the details of the Guterres Framework since the framework is a very general skeleton of a package whose details need to be filled out both on the substantive issues as well as the process.

How is your proposal different than previous proposals?
Leonidas: Basically, in two ways. Instead of trying to invent a sui generis model that has not been tested anywhere, we have decided to work with a model that has proven successful and durable over time, and more specifically the Swiss model of governance. The idea is not to copy institutions ready-made but to discover the principles that have made it successful and see if we can adjust them to our case.

The second thing is that in considering implementation, as Ahmet explained, we have moved away from the idea of an-one-night transformation. What we suggest is an agreed roadmap spanning two electoral cycles comprised of steps in a process of bottom-up integration which will take place in parallel with other synchronized changes on the ground. This would take between 8 and 10 years altogether. Integration in common federal structures will be the last step rather than the first. The first cycle will end with elections to a National Constitutional Assembly if the people approve the idea in a first referendum.

So, are you suggesting more than one referenda?

Leonidas: Yes, we suggest two. One to endorse the initial agreements which will lead to elections for a Constitutional Assembly, and a second one later on the Constitution itself that should be submitted to the people for approval leading to national elections for federal organs.

So, if you were able to introduce, say three new phrases in the public debate on the Cyprus problem what would these be?

Leonidas: Multi-regional federalism, multi-party participation from both Communities, direct democracy, etc.

You also propose an extended period for the implementation. Can you explain the thinking behind this?

Ahmet: We believe that the two communities, unfortunately, did not have the necessary cooperation experience as well as the required cooperation culture for many decades. This experience and culture are vital for the smooth functioning of a federal state. The division of the island and the separation of the two communities for so many years prevented the emergence of this cooperation experience and culture. Our proposal for a transitional period for the implementation provides exactly that space and time where the two communities would develop the necessary experience and culture for cooperation. Our model would also eliminate the risk of a collapse of a federal state (Plan A) due to dysfunctionality. In our model, the two communities would be provided the necessary space and time to develop and internalize the requirements of a federation during the transitional implementation stage.

Why do you think this model stands a better chance to work than the one currently under discussion?

Ahmet: Our model is based on a gradual, step-by-step preparation of the two communities to the idea of a federation, based on power sharing, rather that the big-bang approach of creating and running a federation in day 1 which has lots of risks of breaking down due to the lack of a healthy cooperation experience and culture between the two communities. Although not made entirely explicit, Plan B is supposed to reference the sets of choices the two largest Communities in Cyprus have in pursuing their separate paths in case the present negotiating process (Plan A) does not lead to the desired results. Interestingly, both Turkish Cypriot nationalists and Greek Cypriot nationalists favor the same term, having in mind, of course, different destinations. Those that remain committed to the common effort of reunification through the present process of negotiation reply that “there is no plan B, only Plan A” meaning that, even though the experience of the last fifty years seems to suggest limited prospects of success, the present course is the only acceptable option. Plan C, as proposed here, is thus an alternative to both the above scenarios. It is an alternative to Plan B because as a political proposal it is federalist and it supports the effort of jointly working out a power-sharing architecture that will reunify the island, uniting its people, and its institutions. It is an alternative to Plan A because it argues for a gradualist approach, which, if adopted, would constitute a paradigm shift from the present ‘delivery room concept’ that views the solution as a single, instantaneous act, similar to a birth.

Why did you choose the Swiss model?

Leonidas: For many reasons. First of all, it is a model that is undoubtedly successful and has proven resilient over time. And it has not only produced social harmony but has also delivered prosperity. For the people of Cyprus to consent to a new system of government they must be as certain as possible that they are choosing a good system.

More specifically, we chose this because it combines the geographical features of a federation with a power-sharing formula which a lot of other federations do not have. However, it is important to note that the internal balances of a system have to be respected because this is probably the reason it has been successful. We should not just replicate certain institutions taking them out of context. So, in the Swiss system, for example, it is a third principle, in addition to federalist geography and power-sharing, namely direct democracy that ensures the system retains cohesion and momentum.

In considering the Swiss system of government we became convinced that it can offer a way to break an impasse that has been plaguing the Cyprus discussions from the 60’s. The Turkish Cypriots resist a unitary structure and the Greek Cypriots fear bipolarity which can lead to dysfunctionality, deadlock and permanent partition. So, our solution was to turn singularity and duality into multiplicity, by distributing power among a greater number of political actors, including for example through decentralization. Neither concentration of power in the hands of one who can act arbitrarily nor in two who can cancel each other out. In Algebra this is called factorization which is the transformation of a whole into a greater number of simpler elements which, however, produce the original magnitude. So, for example, instead of two geographical subjects of the federation we suggest a minimum of 6 and preferably more, possibly as many as 12. Similarly, in the exercise of executive power we suggest multiparty participation from both Communities. The goal is to ensure practical respect of political equality while minimizing the risk of dysfunctionality.

But what about bizonality?

Leonidas: If we mean by bizonality that there would be areas with sufficient concentration of population so as to ensure majority presence of either Community in that area, with the political consequences that this will have, then “yes, the model is bi-zonal”. Hence, we treat bizonality as a feature of population distribution. What is different in our model is that we do not interpret bizonality to mean that there can only be two Constituent units to the federation. Our suggestion, based on the Swiss example, is for more geographical regions. In Switzerland, even though there are three main linguistic communities, there are 26 geographical units to the federation. Similarly, we believe that if there were, say, between 6 and 12, instead of two, in our case there would be many advantages. We say six because we traditionally had six administrative Districts. These Districts would also be electoral Constituencies not only for the Lower House but also the Upper House of Parliament, each District being represented by the same number of Senators. In previous discussions, Senators were considered as representing their Community rather than their District. They would also have own extensive District self-governance institutions and would form the legal subjects of the federation.

If we allow adjustments to our traditional Administrative map for the situation on the ground post-1974, then the Districts of Nicosia and Famagusta could be subdivided into either 2 or 3 or 4 smaller Districts each giving us a total up to 12. This does not nullify the principle of bizonality as a feature of population distribution, while it significantly strengthens the coherence of the system.

Can you briefly summarize the basic elements of your model?

Leonidas: Implementation would be gradual on the basis of an agreed roadmap spanning two electoral periods of 8 to 10 years. The process will begin with a set of agreements, a first referendum will follow resulting in the convening of a Constitutional Assembly at the end of the first cycle. Cyprus-wide elections to common federal organs will be the last step at the end of the second cycle. In the meantime, the roadmap will specify parallel steps in as many as 7 or 8 different areas, such as troop withdrawals, resettlement of Varoshia, economic integration, issues of properties and return of displaced persons, etc., simultaneously taking place together with a process of decentralization preparing for future governance. All the changes agreed will be in place before the last step is taken and will be in principle reversible until the people approve the new Constitution in a second referendum at the end of the second cycle. Re-normalizing the relationship between the two communities in a legal sense will be a difficult but essential part of the process.

The architecture will consist of a number of Federal Districts. As these will have their own self-governance institutions and play an important role in the life of citizens, they must be organized so that they are economically viable and able to finance their own political institutions. They must also make ecological and planning sense.

Executive power will be shared according to a formula which will allow participation of more than one political party from each community in the Cabinet of Ministers. Direct Democracy will be enhanced through the institutionalization of referenda making the people active arbiters of the country’s important choices and acting as a deadlock-breaking mechanism. In defense, indigenous own means will ensure homeland security.

All proposals are for the purpose of reflection.


Published in Kathimerini print edition on Sunday 17th of February 2019 


Paraschos  |  Pantelides  |  Sözen‏  |  Cyprus  |  Swiss  |  BBF  |  Federation  |  Governance

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