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Cyprus: EU Presidency

Volume 732: debated on Wednesday 9 November 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take to ensure that both the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities will be involved in Cyprus’s presidency of the European Union in the second half of 2012.

My Lords, as the noble Lord may be aware, President Christofias has publicly stated that he would like to achieve a settlement before Cyprus’s presidency of the European Union, and it is the United Kingdom’s hope that this is achieved to the benefit of all Cypriots. In such circumstances, both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities will be part of Cyprus’s EU presidency.

My Lords, the United Kingdom is, thankfully, one of the guarantor powers for Cyprus, and we are in an ideal position to bring sensible people together from all sides in an attempt to ensure that the presidency of the European Union, over which Cyprus will preside from July of next year, brings credit to all members and all people in Cyprus. Will the noble Lord contemplate thinking about how to ensure that the two sides do joint planning, and that the venues for the six-month presidency are shared so that all can participate in this enterprise?

This would clearly be the ideal objective, and at the moment many people are working hard on it, including HM Government. Of course Alexander Downer is playing his role as adviser and mediator; and there was the meeting with the UN Secretary-General about a fortnight ago in which there was—I am advised to say—some progress but no breakthrough. So it was not totally negative, but obviously there is a long way to go. The next meeting is in January and we hope that there will be a further basis of agreement after that, as we move towards the kind of solution that many of us have sought and longed for for so long.

My Lords, what steps have the Government taken to remind all parties in Cyprus and around Cyprus that the dispute over the exclusive economic zone is one that should be dealt with by peaceful dialogue, not by menaces and threats? Have the British Government made known the view that the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee gives absolutely no right of unilateral intervention in a matter of this sort?

This is an extremely sensitive issue. As the noble Lord knows, the whole problem of the Levant basin and the discoveries of offshore gas in considerable quantities are relevant to a number of nations in the area. Like all parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, we recognise Cyprus’s sovereign rights to exploit mineral reserves within its exclusive economic zone, and we call on all parties to cease from inflammatory actions or statements. In particular we welcome President Christofias’s statement that any gas revenues that emerge—and they will emerge —will be for the benefit of all Cypriots, even in the absence of a settlement. We hope that a mechanism can be found to ensure that all Cypriots share in the proceeds of gas finds and developments in the Levant basin.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the present Government do not represent the whole of the island? Having joined the EU in 2004, Cyprus has six Members of the European Parliament, none of whom is a Turkish Cypriot. Does he agree that the fact that the benefits of EU membership six years on do not apply to the citizens of north Cyprus—Turkish Cypriots—is, in the words of one MEP, an ongoing scandal?

This is the kind of asymmetric situation that is bound to have arisen from the lack of a settlement and the fact that the north is not recognised as a separate state by this country and by many other countries, except Turkey. That is the problem. Somewhere in the future lies a better and happier relationship in which the bi-zonal federal solution for Cyprus is achieved and the whole of Cyprus is represented in the European Union. Somewhere beyond that, perhaps even a satisfactory Turkish relationship with the European Union will also be achieved.

My Lords, will the Minister expand a little on the question of potential Turkish accession to the EU? Can he give any prospect of success, given the position that Cyprus is taking?

We have always recognised, as I am sure the noble Lord has, that these things are intimately bound up together; and there are dangers. Certainly Turkey has stated that it would freeze further negotiations over the EU unless progress is really made on the Cyprus situation generally and unless issues such as oil and gas and the undersea boundaries can be resolved. So there is always a fragility and a danger that the negotiations between Turkey and the EU will be halted. They have been prolonged for a very long time already, and I am afraid that there are still a number of issues ahead. These things are at risk from the ugly division of Cyprus.

My Lords, increasingly there are doubts about Greece’s membership of the European Union, and especially of the eurozone. Did the same doubts apply to bringing Greek Cypriots into the European Union before there was a settlement with the Turkish Cypriots?

I did not quite catch the full extent of the noble Lord’s question. The aim of all of the processes in which we are involved, with the UN and Alexander Downer, is to create a bi-zonal federation that would be part of the European Union and would have the benefits, conditions and status of full membership of the European Union for a united Cyprus. I hope that that answers the noble Lord’s question.

My Lords, is this not a case where we should remember that once we are in a hole, we should stop digging? Is it not time that our Government stopped digging a hole in terms of a lack of settlement in Cyprus? Was the lack of settlement not brought forward because Nikos Sampson and EOKA-B overthrew the regime of Archbishop Makarios? Why do we still pander to the Greek Cypriots and virtually ignore the Turkish Cypriots in this problem?

I honestly do not think that pander is the right word. We want to see a resolution of the problem. We are all aware of the history—the bitterness and the feelings of unfairness and injustice on both sides. We are all aware that Turkey is a major and responsible nation and would like to seek outside, as would no doubt the Greeks, to see the north and south of Cyprus united. There is no question of pandering; it is a question of working very hard to overcome bitter past differences and difficulties.