The proposal made by Averof Neophytou for a Vice-President of the Republic or assistant to the President to be elected by the Greek Cypriots seems to have vanished before it was even formulated. However, on the occasion of this pre-election episode, it would be good and useful to examine issues related to this proposal, namely constitutional order and the role of institutions at the level of the executive power.

In the present article I will examine only the proposal for the election of a Vice President, despite a subsequent reference to “an assistant to the President”. At the level of this analysis, they both pose almost similar problems of correlation or conflict of powers, and a bi-communal dimension. The bi-communal dimension is linked to the provisions of article 1 of the Constitution (which stipulates that the President and the Vice-President belong respectively to the Greek and Turkish communities, which elect them) and its inclusion in the list of the basic articles of the Constitution; this means that article 1 cannot be revised or repealed precisely because it forms the basis of bi-communalism.

The discussion of the question could be terminated here, with the observation, “based on article 182 of the Constitution, article 1 cannot be amended”, so there is no point in talking further. We can, however, and it is useful to examine why this proposal is made. In his speech, Averof Neophytou, said that this is part of (needed) “revisions of the constitution” in order to “upgrade constitutional checks and balances”.

A critical observation in connection to Neophytou’s idea is that a revision of the constitution points to a change of the existing order. This can be done either through a constituent assembly or through a revolution /a coup. In the case of the Republic of Cyprus, such a change requires the participation of the two communities and the three guarantor countries, a procedure, which seems impossible to take place. This means that only the second option, that of a revolution or a coup remains on the table!

A new question arises in connection to the goals of such a change; how does the election of a Vice President or an assistant to the President lead to the enhancement of checks and balances? How does the presence of a new official – which makes the presidential palace stronger, bring (new) checks? More importantly, balances in the bi-communal constitution primarily refer to and cover the rights and interests of the two communities, combined also with balances at the level of the three powers. Can there be a balance by having a President and Vice President coming from only one community, which has an exclusive hold on power, and where the President is already out of control?

The next issue to examine is the role of the proposed institution; the Vice President will have “a responsibility of supervising how internal affairs are conducted“, according to Mr. Neofytou.

We do not know what he means by “oversight or supervisions of internal affairs”. Looking back at the Constitution, we find that no mention of supervisory authority exists in the powers assigned to either the President or the Vice President. Additionally, neither of them disposes any powers of control! Both have the power to appoint and dismiss ministers, and, in particular, to veto decisions of the Council of Ministers on specific issues. In relation to the Parliament, they promulgate the laws, make a recourse or a reference to the Court if they disagree. In brief, their authority is limited to appointments, to procedural and other secondary matters of executive power.

Most people miss the fact that the executive power in Cyprus belongs to the Council of Ministers and that the excessive powers of the President in practice result from the collapse of bi-communalism. No control or challenge can arise from the single-community Cabinet and the absence of a Turkish vice-president.

Where does this setting come from? According to a statement by Glafcos Clerides, in the course of a public event in 1985, the transfer of executive power to the Council of Ministers took place at the initiative of the Greek side. It was an arrangement, during the discussions for the drafting of the Constitution in 1959-60, through which they restrained the powers of the Turkish Vice President and the possibility for his extensive use of the right of veto. Decisions in the Cabinet, in which Greek ministers have a majority, are taken by absolute majority, without interference of any community criteria. In this way Greeks have strengthened their power.

How executive powers are allocated?

Article 46 of the Constitution states “Executive power is ensured by the President and the Vice-President of the Republic”, but real power lies almost exclusively with the Council of Ministers. Indeed, out of the entire Constitution, the terms direction, control, supervision, coordination are found only in article 54, which records to the powers of the Council of Ministers; they refer to governance and general policy, public services and the property of the Republic. Only the Council of Ministers controls, directs, coordinates and supervises! Among other issues, the Council of Ministers makes decisions on foreign affairs, defense and security matters, on which the President and Vice President have their say; they have the power to return back to the Cabinet or veto decisions on these three matters.

Next subject is that of the constitutionally guaranteed powers of the ministers, of each minister, who, according to article 58, “is the head of his ministry”, performs what the laws provide for his responsibilities and manages his ministry. The minister issues decrees and regulations which he submits to the Council of Ministers and when they are approved he issues relevant orders and instructions. The powers of each minister cannot interfere with the powers that the Constitution gives to the President/Vice President or the Council of Ministers, while it is clear that the presidential palace has no power to interfere with the powers and competencies of a minister.

Moving on to a matter related to supervision and coordination, we note the following: The transposition of the European Directive 2011/85/EU on fiscal frameworks into the Law of the Republic was done with the Law 20(I)2014, under which specific powers related to the budget and public finances are attributed to the Minister of Finance. However, in order to be in line with the Constitution, the provisions of this Law clearly refer executive powers to the Council of Ministers, which is cited in every step and is reserved the decisive and final role. It would not be possible to do otherwise, nor to place the Minister of Finance above the powers of the Council of Ministers, nor for the Minister of Finance to interfere with the competences of other ministers, not even for issues related to the Budget and public finances.

It is clear from the above that no executive power of control, direction or supervision is assigned to the Presidential palace. The proposal of Averof Neophytou indicates at least a lack of knowledge of the competences and powers that the Constitution assigns to State institutions. It raises serious issues of concern, and its promotion would lead to interference by the President with the powers of the Council of Ministers, as well as each ministry separately, which are elements that deviate from the constitutional order. How can powers that the Constitution in its bi-communal form was not attributing to the President and Vice-President, would be attributed to them now, when the State functions under the “right of necessity”, due to the collapse of bi-communality, and where the President is already uncontrollable?

*Article published in Kathimerini, 12 September 2022