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Cyprus: EU Presidency

Volume 733: debated on Tuesday 20 December 2011


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what they consider will be the longer-term effect of the Republic of Cyprus assuming the presidency of the European Union in July 2012.

My Lords, we are confident that the Republic of Cyprus will carry out its presidency responsibilities as defined by the Treaty on European Union. It is for the Government of the Republic of Cyprus to set the objectives for its presidency of the European Union from July to December 2012.

However, my Lords, have Her Majesty’s Government considered the consequences for the United Kingdom when it endorses an EU presidency by a bankrupt nation that has for 40 years maintained a dishonest and discriminating policy towards Turkish Cypriots and has survived under a leadership that has recently been defined by 90 per cent of its own people—Greek Cypriots—as corrupt? What will that say about our national values?

I think the whole House recognises that criticisms can be levelled at a number of countries, including the Republic of Cyprus, which, in the list I have here, comes 30th out of 191 countries in Transparency International’s examinations of levels of corruption, and comes 16th out of 30 countries in the European Union. There is obviously a problem there which I think is recognised in the republic itself. As to the future presidency, it is our hope that there will be decisive progress in the coming months towards a settlement that everyone in the north, Turkey, Greece, the Republic of Cyprus and indeed this country desires. If we can move forward in that way, everyone benefits.

My Lords, I declare an interest in that I have just returned from a visit to Cyprus that was funded by the north Cypriot Government. Is the Minister aware that the Turkish Cypriot north set up and established the Immovable Property Commission in 2006, thus allowing mainly Greek Cypriots to get compensation for properties that they had lost? To date, the commission has received 2,629 applications and has paid out more than £63 million. As the Minister will know, this has been ratified by the European Court of Human Rights. Are Her Majesty’s Government aware that no such local remedy is available for Turkish Cypriots to claim for properties they have lost? Hundreds of people have had to go to the European Court of Human Rights to claim their compensation. Is this acceptable for an EU country that is about to take over the presidency of the EU? Should it not set an example?

We want to see progress on all sides on this vexed question of property. The commission that my noble friend mentions is making a positive contribution. Ultimately, we believe that the whole property issue can be solved only as part of a comprehensive settlement. We certainly support any efforts to resolve the issue, whether in the north or in the republic. I cannot say more than that at the moment.

My Lords, I, too, declare a pecuniary interest as having returned from northern Cyprus on a visit sponsored by its Government. Does the Minister recall a Question that I laid earlier when I asked the British Government to use their best interests to bring together both sides so that the presidency will bring renown to the island of Cyprus and to its two peoples? Unfortunately, there is little working together for a common purpose, as was demonstrated during our visit.

I do indeed recall the noble Lord’s earlier Question in which he rightly expressed the hope, which we frankly all share, for decisive progress. The next meeting in the UN process under the Secretary-General of the United Nations takes place at the end of January, and we all hope for further progress. At the latest meeting, the stance was not totally negative but there was not much progress, and we hope that they will do better this time. The gains for all sides from a successful advance in the UN process are so enormous that one longs to see it move forward, but so far, I am afraid, we have been disappointed.

My Lords, perhaps the Minister will forgive me if I take the opportunity to wish the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, a happy birthday, he having been a Foreign Secretary who worked tirelessly for a solution of the Cyprus problem. Does the Minister agree that it would be rather useful if the Governments of both Cyprus and Turkey reconsidered their attitude towards each other? The petulance with which the Government of Turkey are approaching the Cyprus presidency would seem to be barely fitting for a rising nation of great importance to us. As for the Government of Cyprus, their blocking Turkey joining the EU to work on measures against Syria and their blocking of many of the chapters of Turkey's accession is entirely counterproductive for their own interests. Would not some reconsideration by both sides of their attitude towards each other be in order?

First, I warmly endorse the noble Lord’s wishes for the happy birthday of my noble and learned friend Lord Howe of Aberavon. I think I can speak on behalf of Her Majesty's Government in presenting those congratulations to him on his 86th birthday. That is terrific.

As to the broader points made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, he himself has played a significant part in trying to get the parties to take a more reasonable attitude to each other. He is right: the compromise that will emerge from the end of Cyprus’s tribulations can be achieved only if there is a more giving and revised attitude on both sides. Very hard lines have been taken up. There has to be compromise, there has to be movement, there has to be some revision of views between the two sides. Then we will make progress. What the noble Lord says must be right, and we have to work for it.

My Lords, can the Minister confirm that there is no intention to change the status of the sovereign base areas in Cyprus or the military facilities there?

I can confirm that. As the noble Lord knows, there was a recent review of the sovereign bases. A Statement was made to Parliament indicating that the review has been completed. It has not been fully published, but its broad conclusions are established, which are that the bases are vital and will certainly continue. There was, of course, already the view that in the event of a settlement and the unity of Cyprus, 50 per cent of the sovereign base area would be part of the settlement and would be available to help it. Generally, the commitment is as firm as it has always been that the sovereign bases are important and will remain.

My Lords, on the other hand, can we not look forward to a happy and fruitful presidency of Cyprus, which after all shares so many of its attributes with the bloated Commission in Brussels?