While the age of entitlement seems well and truly alive with Alexander Downer’s much anticipated shoo-in to the job of Australia’s High Commissioner in London, to say the jury is out over what Mr Downer achieved during his time as UN Special Envoy to Cyprus might be an understatement.
The former foreign minister won praise from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for playing an ”indispensable role” since 2008 in efforts to resolve the longstanding dispute between Cyprus’ two communities, whose leaders issued a joint declaration earlier this month to relaunch negotiations for a settlement.
Mr Downer said that while the statement was way short of a solution, in his view it marked one of the best agreements since the 1974 conflict that separated the island.
After more than five years of shuttle diplomacy between Australia, the US and Cyprus in the envoy role, the statement created a line in the sand for the former Coalition minister, and offered an opportunity to step back: an unsurprising move given an increasingly frosty relationship with Cyprus’ Greek Cypriot community.
Downer described the job as “…fascinating, a hugely complex and difficult issue”. It was a diplomat’s response.
Uninterested in a return to parliamentary politics, he said he would devote himself to other pursuits: a consulting company, teaching at the University of Adelaide and doing his bit for SA’s Liberal party in the run-up to the state election.
But the pull of high office in one of the plum diplomatic postings is something most would find hard to resist.
Mr Downer’s appointment to the UK capital would see him return to the city of his youth in a role previously occupied by his father, Sir Alexander, who held the post from 1963 to 1972.
Downer’s end of term report – as far as the Cyprus diaspora in Australia is concerned – is mixed, a C grade at best.
PASEKA president Constantinos Procopiou told Neos Kosmos: “It is certain his task was not an easy one considering the facts on the ground, and the arrogance of the one side as they had the advantage of military might.”
If the UN was to invest in another post aimed at finding a lasting settlement to the Cyprus dispute, Mr Procopiou suggested the envoy would do well to “redirect the negotiating parties to the agreed principles for the solution.
“Should one party deviate, he or she should advise the UN on the facts and the real reasons for any failure of the negotiations.”
Dr Michális Michael – senior research fellow at La Trobe University – believes that Alexander Downer’s legacy as envoy is limited.
“By the end of his tenure, Downer’s relationship with the Greek Cypriots had all but collapsed,” said Dr Michael, who is deputy director of the Centre for Dialogue
“President Nicos Anastasiades said in a televised interview that Downer had lost confidence amongst the great majority of Greek Cypriots as an honest broker. The observation was followed by Downer postponing a meeting with the president.
“After six years, Downer – like so many before him – became tired and frustrated over the gridlock that is the Cyprus problem.”