Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am very pleased to debate the impact of resolving the Cyprus issue on the Floor of the House, which to me shows its increasing importance as a key issue in the eastern Mediterranean. Some speakers may well feel that I am putting the cart before the horse by discussing the impact of a settlement before one has been achieved. When I tabled this QSD, prospects looked rather brighter than they do at present, but I am an eternal optimist. By focusing on the impact from an international as well as a Cypriot viewpoint, I hope to add an extra dimension to the argument, and encourage the two sides to look at these broader issues, rather than narrow tribal rivalries.
The island has been divided for 40 years. In those 40 years talks on reunification have been an enduring feature of political life, without any success. The Annan plan of 2004 was the last and most comprehensive proposal for a settlement. It was overwhelmingly accepted by the Turkish Cypriots and comprehensively rejected by the Greek Cypriots. The reasons for rejection have been carefully analysed in the aftermath. Essentially, the Greek Cypriot political elite and people saw no benefit to them in the proposals, so they voted against.
We are now in the middle of a renewed negotiation. Many see this as the best hope for reunification. Where the negotiations seem to be different this time from the Annan plan, is that they are by Cypriots, for Cypriots—although as I will discuss later, they seem to have the same fault of failing to involve the wider Cypriot public. It is clear that both sides must see the benefit to them of any proposal for reunification—or, as the Turkish Cypriot chief negotiator Dr Kudret Ozersay puts it, they at least see the real harm to their interests that rejection would bring.
So what are these benefits? First, I suggest they are for the people of Cyprus themselves to be able to be one country again and extend their influence in the Mediterranean and on the world stage. Next, they are economic. Meltdown in the Greek Cypriot banking sector would surely have been less severe if Turkish financial know-how had been available to regulate it. UK companies could expand their links with the whole island. Cyprus, as a member of the Commonwealth, could look to the rich Commonwealth countries for investment. Elsewhere, the reunified island would be able to expand its trading links with the EU and Turkey.
Regional stability would be improved. Turkey is a member of NATO but not the EU. Greek Cyprus is not a member of NATO. A reunified island would see Cyprus join NATO, and thus counteract the influence of Russia, which has not only bailed out the Greek Cypriot banks but is now able to use the airbase near Paphos and Limassol for its naval vessels. It is also signing agreements with Israel.
This could partly explain the visit to Cyprus this year by the Vice-President of the USA, Joe Biden—the first such visit for 50 years. The USA is concerned about increasing Russian influence in the eastern Mediterranean. Another reason for his visit was surely the interest in an alternative source of energy supply for the West. The Aphrodite field off the south-east of Cyprus is a useful gas find, but unless it is combined with the neighbouring Leviathan and Tamar Israeli fields it will not produce sufficient gas to justify an LNG plant on the island. If such an arrangement can be agreed, the gas could be piped to Turkey, thus bypassing Russian sources of supply and giving Cyprus much cheaper energy on the way.
The whole exercise would be possible only with a reunified island, and the benefits will not be felt for several years. Can I ask the Minister whether the UK Government support the equal distribution of the natural resources found around the island between the two communities? Do they support the constructive proposal previously made by the Turkish Cypriot side in 2011-12 which includes the establishment of an ad hoc committee to deal with issues regarding natural resources?
Another natural resource that the whole of Cyprus could benefit from after a successful peace process would be water. An ambitious plan is in train to link Turkey with the TRNC, which would help eliminate chronic water shortages. This water supply could then be extended to the south, and thus the whole of Cyprus would benefit. The supply of water to the south could be the quid pro quo for the south agreeing to allow gas to be transported through to the north and thus on to Turkey.
The next area to benefit would be tourism. The stark reality of the current situation was demonstrated to me during my visit to the TRNC last July. Seeing Varosha, which was a prime tourist resort before partition, completely shut off was extraordinary and of benefit to no one. The inconvenience of having to fly to Turkey first if you want to visit the north must put off a lot of visitors.
In the remaining part of my comments, I wish to address the latest attempt to get a solution. In February 2014, the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities issued a joint declaration. On the surface this looked promising, with the Greek Cypriot President Anastasiades being a “yes” voter in the 2004 referendum. Clause 1 of the declaration states that the current situation is unacceptable and its prolongation will have negative consequences for the Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Clause 2 states that,
“the leaders will aim to reach a settlement as soon as possible and hold … simultaneous referenda thereafter”.
However, progress since then has been very slow as the leaders have met only five times since February, and I cannot see what real progress has been achieved. What do the UK Government intend to do to encourage the Greek Cypriot side to accept the previously reached convergences so that the negotiations can move forward at a more reasonable pace? What is being done to speed up the process of appointing a new UN special adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus, which may also bring a new sense of urgency to the talks?
One of the key factors over the years in preventing a settlement has been the failure of the traditional top-down approach of the talks. According to a paper from Alexandros Lordos, research director for Cyprus 2015, one of the key arguments for the failure is that the Cypriot public are not involved in the peace process. Lordos states that there had been an opportunity to add public opinion analysis to the Annan negotiating process. Specifically, Professor Colin Irwin from Ireland was asked in 1998 if he could assist with such a programme. In that year he made a presentation of his Northern Ireland work to the Greek-Turkish forum in Istanbul and explained how it was used to build a consensus around the Belfast agreement. The forum subsequently decided that it would like to undertake a similar programme of research in Cyprus. Although the Greek Cypriot negotiators wanted to go ahead with a poll, the Turkish Cypriot Government did not. In the end, no polls were undertaken and without the benefits of an effective programme of public diplomacy both the negotiations and the subsequent referendum failed.
Lordos analyses how a public diplomacy approach would work in practice. First, the UN would step right back and be responsible for providing facilitation rather than drafting services, while groups of Cypriots would be responsible for drafting the peace plan. Secondly, the process would be overseen, supervised and guided by leaders of the two communities—but without being limited, as at present, to the leaders of the two communities. Thirdly, groups of experts would play a role, including civic society. However, an equally important part would be played by groups of society representatives —women, trade unions, commerce boards and refugees, for instance—who would add a human face and human perspective to the process.
Fourthly, the negotiating teams would have at their disposal reliable public opinion information on a regular basis. This would provide feedback on the public acceptability of the various alternative solutions that the negotiators would be considering. Fifthly, external actors such as Greece and Turkey would not have direct access to the drafting process, while other non-invasive and respectful ways should be found for their constructive input to be considered.
Lordos also suggests that the Cyprus problem can be divided into segments or sub-problems, and that, if each of these sub-problems can be solved to the satisfaction of both communities, the final settlement plan, derived by putting together the solutions to the sub-problems, will also be satisfactory to both communities. The areas he believes should be six: security, property, residence rights, settlers, power sharing and legal status.
In conclusion, I commend the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for being very active, especially in inviting the Turkish Cypriot leader and his negotiator to London—the first time that Turkish Cypriots have been invited to London. None of this, sadly, means that negotiations will be easy or successful to achieve the hoped-for impact that I outlined earlier, and the Lordos proposals have great appeal to me if current talks fail.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, not only on securing this important debate but on so expertly introducing it. I look forward to other expert speakers, most notably the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, with all his expertise. I, too, am encouraged—in fact I have written, “Hope springs eternal”—by the fact that Anastasiades and Dr Eroglu are now in conversation. I look forward to hearing from the Minister on any reports she has had.
As we near the 10th anniversary of the Annan plan vote, I declare—because I am a passionate pro-European—my sorrow that the European Union made such a major blunder in allowing in the island of Cyprus without ensuring that both north and south were reconciled. I, too, remember visiting in 1968 Varosha, when it was then a thriving tourist town, and the friendship I received then—as I received the friendship of British troops over on the other side of the island at Troodos. I have been three times to Northern Cyprus, funded by the TRNC, and, as the chair of the EU Committee’s Economic and Financial Affairs Sub-Committee of your Lordships’ House, I recently went to the Greek side under the Cypriot presidency. I must recall that this was a huge missed opportunity. The presidency of the European Union is a great honour given to member states, and there should have been more work and collusion with both sides of the island. A further missed opportunity was the European elections, and I regret that that was the case.
The United Kingdom holds a special role with respect to the Cyprus situation, about which I should like to hear more from the Minister. I represented the House in Athens recently at a COSAC meeting. Our Turkish colleagues were there and invited to comment, along with the 28 other member states. Why is provision not made for our Turkish Cypriot community from the north of the island?
Can the Minister inform us of the latest situation concerning universities? There has been a recent example of a British university in, I think, east London that has failed to work with a university in Nicosia. However, those of us who have been to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus have not only celebrated the high level of expertise that the six universities have there, but recognised them to be part of its export industry, as they have so many students from far and wide. What opportunities can we develop in the United Kingdom to advance this process? Would the Minister also respond to the disgraceful state of affairs of the exclusion of Turkish Northern Cyprus, by the Council of Europe, from the Bologna process and the Erasmus programme, each of which encourage the swapping of students to benefit Europe as a whole? It is rank discrimination; why is it still the case?
The noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, mentioned the difficulty of direct flights. Tourism is an important industry in both the south and the north. Is there no resolution, which I know the former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made every effort to try to solve, to the absurdity of having to send people to Turkey before they go on to the delights of Northern Cyprus and take the opportunities that are there? Tourism is a key industry; we should help to improve it.
Can I also ask the Minister what is being done to provide better access to the single market? On my most recent visit to the TRNC, in talks with the Board of Trade and the business community, it was made plain to us that access to the single market was made that much more difficult because everything had to be funnelled through Turkey, adding to transportation costs and so on. Could the Minister also detail the financial help that the United Kingdom gives—and gave at the time of the EU crisis? Would she also detail the European Union and the Commission’s work in trying to help and prepare the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus for what we hope will be true accession to the European Union in due course? If she does not have the details to hand, I would be very happy to be written to.
Given the economic crisis, can the Minister give us some analysis of the state of Cypriot banks? As she will know, they will shortly come under the stress test of the European Central Bank and the acid quality test done by the ECB and the European Banking Authority. Can she hazard a guess as to whether any of the banks that sustained such difficulty will continue to be a worry, as they were when the crisis was at its height?
We have heard mention of oil and gas. Perhaps the Minister will elaborate on that, but my intelligence is that those reserves are perhaps less than was thought to be the case. Can she clarify that?
Regarding the United Kingdom, what are we going to do with the British bases? Will they form part of any settlement? Secondly, given the very strong communities in north London, what can be done in our own country to encourage better understanding of the problems on both sides?
I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, who will speak shortly. Her ideas, which I hope will be pursued by the Government, concern building up civil society from the bottom upwards.
The noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, also pointed to the concern about water and the environment. These are important issues that should be shared by both communities. The United Kingdom should get stuck in to ensure that we promote opportunities to find a fair settlement for all concerned on the island of Cyprus.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Harrison. Like him, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Northbrook on securing the debate and on his wide-ranging opening speech. It was so wide-ranging that I will not take advantage of the extra time available. I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Group for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
As both previous speakers have said, negotiations for reunification have been going on for more than 40 years. For many of those years nothing much seemed to happen. When it did happen, as with the Annan plan, it did not work. The latest round of negotiations is probably the best chance—perhaps the last chance—of any kind of success. The hydrocarbon discoveries, the financial crash of 2007-08 and the dramatic increase in unrest in the eastern Mediterranean are all new factors pointing towards the desirability of a settlement. However, as usual, there are conflicting views about the progress being made in the negotiations.
In particular, many commentators point out the need for a UN special representative to replace Alexander Downer. I understand that the former UN Under-Secretary-General Lynn Pascoe is the person favoured by Ban Ki-moon. Mr Pascoe was previously US ambassador to Malaysia and to Indonesia; he was the US special negotiator for Nagorno-Karabakh and served five years in the UN Department of Political Affairs, where he was actively involved in the Cyprus problem. Yet I understand that his appointment is meeting resistance from the Greek Cypriots. Can the Minister bring us up to date on this issue when she replies?
It seems the case that heavyweight input is needed pretty quickly. The Turkish Cypriot negotiator, Dr Kudret Özersay, submitted a five-step roadmap for future negotiations to the leaders meeting of 7 July. This meeting was supposed to make progress on confidence-building measures, but it did not. At a negotiators meeting two days later, it was agreed to try again at a meeting taking place tomorrow and again at the next leaders’ meeting, which takes place this coming Friday. It is possible to be pessimistic about all this, but I think it is better read as grounds for cautious—perhaps very cautious—optimism. For example, it seems clear that both sides understand the need for urgent progress. It would help if Mr Pascoe, or some other UN nominee, could take a role in all of this as soon as possible.
The need for urgent settlement arises from several factors. At the moment there is a window of political stability on the island, which will last only until the end of the next round of major elections, which are not very far away. There is also the growing complexity surrounding hydrocarbon exploitation. Amos Hochstein, of the US State Department, said last week that these newly discovered energy resources have changed the rules of the game in the region. That is undoubtedly the case. For example, the Chinese National Offshore Oil Corporation is now in talks to buy 30% to 40% of the Aphrodite gas field in Cyprus’s block 12.
A further factor driving the need for an urgent solution is, of course, the increasingly chaotic, unstable and violent situation in the eastern Mediterranean as a whole. The benefits of a successful reunion have already been rehearsed to some extent by previous speakers and outside the Chamber. Reunification brings the prospect of very significant economic growth. The UN estimates an additional three percentage points to GDP as a result of reunification. There are then the proceeds of the offshore hydrocarbons, which are likely to be significant if reunification takes place, and are quite likely to be zero if it does not. Then there is inward investment, or the prospect of inward investment. The north of the island has been deprived of capital for 40 years, and it is still cut off from the international banking system. Development of the north and reconnection of the north to the world outside will bring increased prosperity to all parts of the island.
Finally, there is the question of stability, which is a necessary precondition for investment—naturally—but is also a vital requirement in such an unstable region. Stability is in the direct interest not only of the Cypriot peoples but of NATO, the region and the West. I know that Her Majesty’s Government have been very active in support of negotiations for reunification, and I congratulate the FCO on that. The UK has a moral and a legal obligation to help, and I am very glad that it is helping. However, our help will be needed for many years after reunification and I shall be very glad to hear the noble Baroness commit to that when she speaks.
My Lords, I am grateful, of course, to the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, and to others who have spoken constructively about the problems facing Cyprus. I am also reminded that when I spoke in a previous debate on Iran when the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, was responding—I think it was in February—she flattered me with the words:
“I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed with such authority to today’s debate, especially … the robust alternative critique presented by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis”. —[Official Report, 27/2/14; col. 1070.]
With that expectation, if I may, I shall present a somewhat different objective view of the Cyprus situation. In doing so, I will be critical of the role that for more than 50 years the United Kingdom has played in terms of assisting in a solution. It is important to know what really happened in Cyprus. It is time to stop rewriting history. There is an obvious gap, not just in this Government’s knowledge but in the previous Government’s knowledge. How many know that EOKA-B sought to expunge every Turkish Cypriot from the island between Christmas 1963 and 1974? I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us explicitly the significance of the Akritas and Ifestos plans—the blueprint for ethnic cleansing even before we used that term.
Let me outline when the invasion of Cyprus began. It was not 20 July when the Turkish military, in order to protect Turkish Cypriots, intervened in the island. The noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, with some force, picked 15 July, since it was on that date exactly 40 years ago when the Cyprus National Guard and EOKA-B, led by the Greek junta, launched a coup and overthrew the democratically elected President, Archbishop Makarios, with the goal of Enosis—annexing Cyprus into Greece. Although the Turkish Cypriots are blamed for the events of 1974, I remind the House that Rauf Denktas, my late dear friend the Turkish Cypriot leader, said:
“Our duty in this situation, which we believe is a matter between Greek Cypriots, is to protect our international security, to take defensive measures and not to interfere in any way in inter-Greek Cypriot events”.
Four days later on 19 July, while addressing the UN Security Council, Archbishop Makarios accused Greece of having invaded Cyprus:
“The coup of the Greek junta is an invasion, and from its consequences the whole people of Cyprus suffers, both Greeks and Turks”.
Nothing has changed over the years regarding that common suffering. Is it not time for our Government to nail the big fat Greek Cypriot lie once and for all on this 40th anniversary of the Greek invasion and coup to overthrow President Makarios? I could go through many instances of the difficulties that all the people of Cyprus suffered during that period.
We hear about all the people who were killed when Turkey, as a guarantor power did what we, as a guarantor power, should have done—intervened to try to stop wholesale slaughter. We hear about that, but have many of us heard that, in the five days between 15 July when the Greeks invaded and when the Turkish military intervened, more than 3,000 Greek Cypriot supporters of Makarios and the communist party AKEL were killed in an orgy of Greek-on-Greek bloodletting? At the same time Sampson gave the notorious Akritas plan full rein to exterminate Turkish Cypriots “once and for all”.
Having posed that question, I want to move to our behaviour in Cyprus in terms of our 371 soldiers who died during the emergency, and the 58 policemen—British, Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot—who all died in the service of the Crown. Why is it that 50 years on, in 2009, when a few of us sought to erect a memorial to our troops, we did not have any support from government? In those days we did not bring our bodies home, so we sought to erect a monument in Wayne’s Keep, where most of our soldiers are buried. That was refused by the Greek Cypriots. I was part of a small group of half a dozen who managed to raise more than £200,000 and we erected a monument to those 371 soldiers. This year we are extending that monument to include the 58 policemen.
Despite all the sweet words that we may talk in this House and in the other place about regard for our troops, we do not have the guts to stand up to the Greek Cypriots and say, “We will honour our dead. We have respect for our dead”. How can we, with so little self-respect, ever hope to play a positive role in bringing some sort of settlement? I put my cards on the table. I do not think that it is reintegration; I think it is federation. How can we play our role in that when we, over the period of 50 years, have failed our own people? How can we support the Turkish Cypriot minority? How can we conciliate between it and the Greek Cypriot majority? I do not believe we have given ourselves the status to do so, and I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to reassure me this evening.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, for securing this very valuable debate. I make my own declaration of interest, as a member of the All-Party Group for the TRNC and as a fairly regular visitor to the TRNC over the past 30 years. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, for his speech, which makes mine seem not quite as controversial as I thought it might be, having heard the earlier contributions.
The first contact I had with the TRNC was with Rauf Denktas, who has already been mentioned—someone who, it behoves us to remember, began his life in the service of the British Crown and who, for all his life, looked to the British Crown to behave a little better than I think it ever really did. The fact of the matter is that the Annan plan, which has often been mentioned, was rejected to an extent because of the European Union. Once the European Union had given way to what was effectively the blackmail of the Greek Government, who said they would sink enlargement if Cyprus was not allowed in, anything that the EU said about only allowing in a united island became null. At that point, the leaders of the Greek community knew that it was very safe to vote no, and of course they immediately went out to encourage the vote against the Annan plan.
I was in Cyprus at the time of the referendum and it was very easy, and I am afraid rather sad, to see what was going on. For the Turkish side of the island, there was a positive gain; for the Greek side, there was no loss. There was nothing to be lost from rejecting the plan. I remember comparing it at the time to an Irish referendum: it is always safe to vote no, because you might get something more. Incidentally, I mean an Irish EU referendum—and a Republic of Ireland EU referendum, just to qualify that. I see the noble Lord, Lord Kilclooney, looking at me quizzically there.
The EU then became damaged goods. I am afraid that, when you look at the possibility of a settlement in Cyprus, the EU is not seen as an honest broker by the Turkish side of the island, probably with extremely good reason. The United States, until recently, has been a very disinterested player on the scene. I welcome the visit of the US Vice-President, because unless the US gets itself involved, there will not be a settlement. The reality of a settlement is an objective called money, which we often overlook. Unless there is a substantial input of aid from the EU and the US to sort out the problems, particularly of property compensation and the land issues, there will not be a settlement. The refugees, I believe, can be dealt with by saying, “This is the Turkish side of the island, and whoever lives there is who they choose”, but there is a need to sort out the other issues, particularly the European Court of Human Rights judgments—many of them are, frankly, completely perverse but, none the less, they stand there and they have to be unravelled as part of this settlement.
My belief is that we need to ramp up the pressure on Cyprus. One thing the Cypriot Government have known is that the TRNC goes unrecognised. There is no reason why it should not be recognised. If there is going to be no real attempt to build a settlement, then these people in this half of the island have a right to international recognition and what goes with it. There is no reason at all why, if intransigence follows intransigence, we should not say that, in the interests of a level playing field, we will recognise the rights of both sides. There is no reason why we should not say: if the Turkish Cypriots are part of the EU, as Greek Cyprus would say, where are the Turkish representatives in the European Parliament? Where are the nominees from the Turkish community for posts within the EU? Where is the consultation with the Turkish community on engagement with the EU? We have more to do with the Welsh Parliament than the Greek Cypriot Administration do in consulting the Turks, who, they say, are part of the EU.
We need to look at something much more positive from the United Kingdom than a selection of warm words which can easily be forgotten. We have been putting warm words forward for year after year for 40 years. I echo what the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, said: when the Turkish troops went to Cyprus in 1974, they went to rescue the Turkish community. They were not an invading force; they were a protecting force. Any solution to the problem has to recognise the fact that the Turkish community feels deeply insecure. If the Greek part of the island is happy to say that they have only benevolent intentions, then I put it to them that it is quite reasonable to negotiate a Turkish base in north Cyprus with a time-limited guarantee—say, of 20 years.
I recall a Turkish general saying to me that they could do without the Turkish base there because they would be able to get troops across from Turkey into northern Cyprus while the EU Council of Foreign Ministers was still arguing about which city to meet in. Admittedly, that was a rather cynical view, but one has to realise that Cyprus is much closer to Turkey than to Greece. One also has to realise that it has a long Turkish tradition. It is not a Greek island; anyone who has been round it, who has seen the mosques and the Turkish settlement, will realise that those are as much a legitimate part of a Turkish island as of a Greek island.
I hope that we move forward. I recall for the Minister’s edification the words that she used in the previous debate:
“it is difficult to see how we could realise the full potential of energy from the eastern Mediterranean without a Cyprus settlement”.—[Official Report, 17/6/14; col. GC 76.]
In closing, I would say that the need for energy has now come right up the agenda. I hope that we will be able to use our diplomatic weight, but also use a bit of oomph and power, to get a settlement moving this time. Thank you.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Northbrook on securing this debate and on his very thoughtful and thorough introduction. In fact, he said some of the things I might have wanted to say.
As has been said, today is the 15 July, the 40th anniversary of the coup instigated by the Greek junta, when Nicos Sampson deposed the elected President, Archbishop Makarios. This date is etched on the memory of Cypriots and Cypriot history. All of us who are connected to Cyprus and are old enough remember with horror the events of that period. We feel the repercussions to this day, as the UN is currently engaged in yet another attempt at a peace deal in the long history of negotiations.
Of course, as the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, reminded us quite forcefully, the problems did not start in 1974. Although many Cypriots want a peace deal and to be able to live their lives with dignity, hope, security and equality—for all communities—there are still terrific challenges and obstacles to overcome, the greatest being apathy and the lack of belief that it will ever happen.
There have been some encouraging signs, as we have heard from other noble Lords. I was in Cyprus the day after the United States Vice-President Joe Biden visited just a few months ago. His visit served a purpose in raising the profile of the situation in Cyprus to the international community, and led many to believe that there was about to be a breakthrough. However, things have gone rather quiet again recently. Perhaps my noble friend will bring us up to date on whether Her Majesty’s Government are hopeful that we will hear any positive news in the coming weeks and months. As my noble friend Lord Northbrook asked earlier, what has happened to the appointment of the UN special adviser? Surely this indicates a lack of will to appoint somebody in this very important role.
We need to learn lessons from the failure of the Annan plan, 10 years on. Both communities felt excluded from the peace plan that was put before them in a referendum. If there is to be a referendum—I hope there will be—can we ensure that this time the communities and civil society are much more engaged, rather than shut out as when the two leaders were shut in a room and came to an agreement without consulting civil society?
I was in Cyprus when the European elections took place in May and I was extremely concerned that thousands of Turkish Cypriots who had registered to vote and had crossed to the south were prevented from exercising their right to vote. For the first time, steps were taken to allow Turkish Cypriots living in the north of the island to cross the Green Line and vote at special election centres. However, just 3% of Turkish Cypriots voted. Many felt as a result that Turkish Cypriot participation in the EU elections was at best tokenism, as it transpired that there was little intention to share the electoral list in advance with Turkish Cypriot candidates who went across and stood for the European Parliament. The TRNC leadership took the position that Turkish Cypriots should boycott the elections—which I and many others did not feel was helpful at the time—but in the end they were able to say that they had been proved right, which hardly helps to build confidence.
Confidence-building, mainly by the UK and the EU, has long been neglected. But I was encouraged, as others have been, that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office recently invited the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot chief negotiators to meet Ministers here. But more needs to be done. The north is in urgent need of investment to improve its infrastructure. It really is a poor relation, stranded outside the EU. We need to reassure people there that the United Kingdom, as a guarantor country, has their interests at heart.
One area that I believe has been much neglected, which the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, mentioned—I thank him for his very kind and generous words—is education. The north has an extremely buoyant, growing and successful university sector, with nine excellent universities, such as the Near East University, which has 22,000 students; almost 25% of those are international students from the Middle East, Africa and around the world. The standards in those universities are excellent. Students who have moved on to other countries, including the United Kingdom—to study for PhDs, for example—confirm that they have encountered few problems in their transition. The universities have become the leading sector of the north Cyprus economy. I ask my noble friend, as did the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, whether Her Majesty’s Government will consider actively working to build consensus and relationships between universities across the island and in the UK, and support the efforts of those universities to allow recognition of the work they are doing rather than leaving them in limbo? This would be a welcome and bold confidence-building measure. Surely education crosses all divides.
I was recently privileged to become the patron of a new and exciting initiative on Cyprus, the first ever Golden Island International Film Festival, which is hoping to bring the film industry and production to the island, to benefit all on the island—to encourage people to invest there economically and culturally and to bring recognition of what Cyprus has to offer. Those are the sorts of initiatives that civil society is working hard on despite 40 years of embargoes. There is so much going on on the ground below the level that politicians usually give much attention to. But this demonstrates just how much there is a will among the people of Cyprus and the large Cypriot diaspora in this country to keep things moving there to make the best of a very bad situation.
As I said earlier, there are no magic solutions and I am not going to repeat and rehearse the arguments that we have already heard. On the anniversary there was, as ever, a big demonstration in Trafalgar Square by Greek Cypriots in the UK asking for the withdrawal of Turkish troops. There have been other moves for Varosha outside Famagusta to be handed over as a confidence-building measure. All these issues must be dealt with in a comprehensive peace settlement. We also hear how many Turkish settlers have arrived on the island over the years. But with the lack of any comprehensive peace deal, in reality the north of Cyprus is more and more reliant on Turkey. There are no magic solutions for a peace deal that no one has yet though of. All the options have been discussed and debated for decades. What is really needed is the will to achieve a lasting peace for all Cypriots.
My Lords, being the final Back-Bench speaker in a debate, it is always a little tempting to refer to those who have preceded you. I will try to resist that temptation other than to say to my noble friend Lord Maginnis, whose views I do not entirely share, that as I listened to him launch into his narrative, I closed my eyes and I thought I was back in Rauf Denktas’s office, the former district commissioner’s office in Nicosia, where if you could hear anything above the budgerigars that used to tweet around that office, he would give you that narrative. The only two differences are that his version lasted for 40 minutes—
—and that he never laid any claim to objectivity.
It is normally sensible not to speak in debates on Cyprus when there is nothing new to say and it is certainly wise not to count the chickens of a Cyprus settlement before they are hatched. After all, no one has yet lost money betting against a Cyprus settlement. Neither of those considerations seems to apply to this debate, initiated in such a welcome and timely manner by the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook. What leads me to this relatively positive view is the emergence of a number of new factors, many of which have been mentioned already, affecting what is after all one of the longest lasting and most debilitating international disputes.
The first of those factors is the presence as leader of the Greek Cypriot community and President of Cyprus of Nicos Anastasiades, a man with a proven track record of supporting the compromises needed to achieve a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, and someone who campaigned in favour of acceptance of the Annan plan, even when such support was likely to be damaging to his own political prospects. Since becoming President and despite the distractions of the economic crisis, which nearly overwhelmed Cyprus last year, he has worked steadily to get the settlement negotiations back on track.
Secondly, there is a fundamental shift in the underlying economic arguments in favour of a settlement. In the period from 1996 to 2003, when I was involved in the settlement process, those economic arguments were either ignored or traduced. The Greek Cypriot economy was riding high in the run-up to EU accession. The Turkish Cypriot economy lagged far behind and was stagnant. It was argued, mendaciously, that a settlement would load a huge, fat fiscal burden on to the Greek Cypriot economy. That gap has now narrowed, and the potential advantages for the recovery of the Greek Cypriot economy of a settlement and of free access to the massive Turkish market are more evident and can no longer be discounted.
Thirdly, the discovery of substantial gas deposits in the waters around Cyprus has introduced a new and positive element to the equation. No doubt, I suspect, those energy resources could be developed and commercialised in an autarchic manner by the Greek Cypriots. That remains to be proven, but I think it is unwise to assume that it could not be done. There can surely be little doubt, however, that the benefits to the peoples of Cyprus will be far greater if that development and commercialisation could take place in the framework of a reunited island and with the willing co-operation of Turkey.
Fourthly, there is almost certainly going to be the emergence of Mr Erdogan as the next president of Turkey. That looks more and more like a matter of when and not if. Mr Erdogan did much in the period from 2002 to 2004 to reverse the traditional Turkish policy of supporting Rauf Denktas in blocking a settlement in Cyprus. If he comes to office with a clear, democratic mandate next month, it will surely be fitting and would be advantageous to Turkey—a Turkey which has argued that it needs to have zero problems with its neighbours—if he could use that mandate in support of a negotiated settlement to the Cyprus problem.
Do these four new factors mean that all is set fair for a Cyprus settlement? Of course not. This is, after all, the Cyprus problem, which has defied all attempts at a settlement for 50 years, and where the stars favouring a settlement never seem to be in conjunction. There is, however, enough here, I would suggest, to justify a renewed major effort by the parties in Cyprus, supported by the international community, to reach a settlement. It would be good to hear from the Minister what contribution Britain, which has so many close links with Cyprus and with both its communities, intends to make in support of a search for a negotiated solution.
I will conclude with a few remarks about public opinion and the involvement of Cypriots in a settlement. I have great admiration for Alexandros Lordos, whom the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, mentioned. He has worked tirelessly to try to erode the barriers between the two communities, and the work he does in testing opinion is extremely valuable. The real obstacle, however, is that the leaders of both sides in Cyprus are not preparing and will not for the moment prepare their communities for a settlement which needs to be based on compromise. That was what went on in 2003 and 2004. On the Greek Cypriot side in particular, there had been no preparation of public opinion at all. Public opinion had been fed for the past 35 years on an unadulterated diet of Greek Cypriot maximalist claims. Not surprisingly, it proved impossible to turn them round on a sixpence when the Annan plan was produced. It will be the same again if the leaders cannot bring themselves to prepare their communities for the sort of compromises that will need to be made. I do hope that that process can get under way. Perhaps the noble Baroness could talk a little bit about that too.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, for this debate. For 40 years we have seen moments of opportunity come and go but very little progress towards a settlement in Cyprus. Now, as many speakers have said, we have a moment of opportunity that we have not had since the Annan plan of 2004—the noble Baroness, Lady Hussein-Ece, referred to that—and possibly a moment we have not had since 1974.
The people of Cyprus deserve a settlement to bring stability, peace, settlement of long-standing grievances and issues, and the possibility of prosperity. The failure to achieve a settlement in Cyprus, however, also undermines the search for security in a crucial region that is a hinge between Europe and the Middle East. Instability in Cyprus continues to affect the function of the European Union and the ability of the European Union to co-operate effectively with NATO.
For our part, as many speakers have said, the UK has a special responsibility to be a supportive force for resolution because of our colonial past, because of our pivotal roles in the European Union and NATO, and because we are a guarantor power. This year it seems we have a moment for very cautious optimism but, as always, we need optimism grounded in realism.
I will make a few remarks about the principles of our party’s approach to achieving a settlement in Cyprus, to assess the progress in the process that began with the February declaration and to look at the wider issues that any successful process needs to address.
I will start by setting out our party’s approach. We are committed to a just and lasting settlement for the whole of Cyprus. That settlement has to be based on a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation. We strongly believe that, to use the formulation of the noble Lord, Lord Northbrook, a settlement has to be negotiated by Cypriots, for Cypriots and under the auspices of the UN. Only then will it be acceptable and provide for a just and sustainable solution.
While we do not support recognition for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots have interests, aspirations and a burning desire for peace that are as valid as those of Greek Cypriots. Cyprus’s population is about 800,000, of whom 80% are Greek Cypriots and about 11% Turkish Cypriots, but, despite this numerical asymmetry, any just settlement must be based on the principle of equality of treatment of the two communities.
While peace has to be negotiated by Cypriots themselves, we believe that the UK has a privileged role. We are the main export market for Cyprus, and Cyprus punches above its weight as a destination for UK exports. As the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, has reminded us, our historical role has been, to put it mildly, a chequered one. Britain took administrative control of Cyprus after the Congress of Berlin in 1878—a Disraeli special—and declared Cyprus a British colony in 1915. Under the terms of the 1960 treaty, we remain one of three guarantor powers.
Of course we have another role, as about 3% of the island of Cyprus is comprised of UK sovereign bases. In government, we proposed that about half the land in bases in Cyprus would be made available to a united island once a resolution was found. Will the Minister tell us the coalition Government’s position on that proposition now that negotiations have begun again?
Recent developments have given us some cause for hope, particularly the joint declaration process that started in February. The declaration signed by representatives of both communities marked the most significant breakthrough that we have had for at least 10 years. There are encouraging signs in the declaration of principles that can form the basis of a lasting settlement. The declaration confirms the unacceptability of the status quo. It commits to the integrity and identity of both Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. It affirms respect for democratic principles, human rights and fundamental freedom. It states that,
“any settlement will be based on a bi-communal, bi-zonal federation with political equality”,
to form a single, sovereign Cyprus inside the European Union. It envisages a federal constitution,
“composed of two constituent states of equal status”,
legitimised by separate and simultaneous referenda.
These are all encouraging shared commitments. It is further encouragement that, although progress has been slow, there have been further meetings, most recently at the beginning of last week. The meeting seems to have made some limited progress—I am being more optimistic than my noble friend—on mutual confidence-building, and ended with a five-step road map being submitted to the Greek Cypriots by the Turkish Cypriot leadership and an agreement to meet again later this month.
I want to ask the Minister about reports that the Turkish Cypriot side has suggested a meeting with the guarantor powers, including the UK, at some point this year after discussions have begun on the highly vexed issue of territory on the island. Are the Government involved in discussions on participating in such a summit? What is the Government’s response to the Turkish Cypriot leader Eroglu’s proposal that the referenda take place before the year’s end?
The progress in negotiations is welcome to all of us, but we know that agreement has proved elusive in the past for good reasons. There are significant areas of disagreement and difficulty—issues that have sabotaged previous plans for the past 40 years.
First, there is the bundle of issues around territory, property and displaced persons. The legacy of both the violence of the early 1960s and the Turkish military intervention in 1974 is a complex set of issues around the need for land swaps, restitution of property, the status of areas such as Morphou and Famagusta, and church property on the island. It is estimated that around 200,000 Greek Cypriots were forced to leave their land in Northern Cyprus after 1974, and the issue of repatriation of new Turkish settlers on the island was a key factor in the unravelling of the Perez de Cuellar plan in the mid-1980s. These issues are the most sensitive of all and demand more than any other—
I apologise for interrupting, but I did not pick up what the noble Lord said. Did he say that Greek Cypriots had to abandon their territory and did he fail to mention the fact that Turkish Cypriots—for example, on the site of the present airport in the south—had to abandon theirs? Did he overlook that point?
No, absolutely not. The noble Lord is absolutely right: Cypriots of both communities have had to leave land. Working out a final agreement on settlement and property restitution affects both communities. These issues demand more than any other a spirit of pragmatism, compromise and trust between the representatives of the two communities.
Secondly, there are the issues around the Cypriot economy and trade with the European Union and the neighbourhood. On the Greek side of the island, Cyprus has seriously suffered from the fallout of the financial crash and a bailout—or rather a bail-in, to be more accurate—of Cypriot banks which imposed a levy on depositors, in banks that were supposedly covered by a deposit insurance scheme. It was a move which in my view the EU would not have countenanced for the larger members of the EU but which was seen as okay for smaller ones.
Meanwhile, Turkish Cyprus continues to have no direct trade relations with the European Union. Ten years ago, the EU proposed giving more than €260 million to the Turkish Cypriots for infrastructure spending and to open up trade with them, but, sadly, very little progress has been made on this front in the past decade. I would like the Minister’s view on whether there is any prospect with the advent of a new Commission and a newly elected European Parliament for any limited progress in the next few months in that area.
Lastly, there is the question of constitutional arrangements. Prior to 1974, Cyprus had a constitution that one expert called,
“unique in its tortuous complexity”.
Of course, any constitutional arrangement that provides rights of self-government for two communities, as well as rules for decision-making at the federal level, is bound to be complex, but so-called consociational arrangements for countries with a history of conflict between two or more communities can take root and endure. I appreciate that these solutions take time, but can the Minister tell us whether any thinking is going on in the Government about offering assistance in the form of constitutional expertise to the communities?
There is a line in the February declaration that reads that,
“nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.
It is a simple maxim, but a crucial one. If 2014 is, as the communities’ leaders seem to want it to be, the year in which a successful negotiation is concluded, they have to provide a credible and legitimate way through on all these issues and not just on some.
It is said of Aphrodite, who was born in Cyprus, that because of her beauty, other gods feared their rivalry over her would interrupt the peace among them. Surely it is time for us all to combine our efforts to ensure that peace and stability in Cyprus are interrupted no longer.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Northbrook for calling this debate and for having it in the main Chamber. I thank other noble Lords for their valuable and eloquent contributions. I know that several noble Lords maintain close contacts with a range of Cypriot and Turkish interlocutors, and I commend their continued support for efforts to unify Cyprus. The interventions today have shown the full extent of the UK’s strategic interest in a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus. The Cypriots would be the main beneficiaries of a solution, for which they have waited too long, but, as noble Lords have pointed out, it is also right to be aware of the advantages for the wider region. I welcome the recognition given by many noble Lords to the intense efforts of this Government in support of the current round of talks. We will continue to support the UN and the leaders of both communities in these negotiations.
As part of our diplomatic efforts, my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe invited the two chief negotiators to London in June. They both showed determination and seriousness to negotiate a solution. It is not unusual at this stage of any peace talks for there to be disagreements on the process and on the substance. The two communities—and, just as importantly, Turkey—are showing the right level of ambition to reach a settlement. No one should underestimate the scale of the potential challenges ahead, but there has been no better time in recent years to achieve a lasting solution.
I am aware that today is the 40th anniversary of the coup. The difficult events of the summer of 1974 continue to cast a long shadow over Cyprus. This is a moment also to remember all those Cypriots who have been victims of violence since independence. At the time, British military intervention was seen as contradicting the long-standing UK policy of pursuing a peaceful settlement of the dispute by means of negotiations between the parties under the aegis of the UN. This Government’s focus is on supporting the reunification of Cyprus. If noble Lords want to examine the UK’s policy at the time, I refer them to the report of the House of Commons Select Committee on Cyprus which was published in 1976. In response to my noble friend Lord Balfe, I can confirm that the Government’s position has not changed and we do not recognise the so-called Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.
I understand that members of each community and noble Lords in this House tend to interpret past events in different ways, and indeed the exact population percentages are contested even today. I note the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis. I hope that he takes my comment about a previous speech of his being a “robust alternative critique” in a positive manner. I of course pay tribute to those British personnel who lost their lives during that emergency period, and the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, referred to that. Given the long history of the negotiations, there is much valuable previous work to draw on, and we are encouraging both sides to establish areas of agreement on the unresolved core issues as soon as possible.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Northbrook, asked about the UN special adviser. We have discussed this matter with the UN and with the parties and of course support an early appointment. The previous special adviser, Alexander Downer, who was referred to in this debate, has made great efforts during the past six years to help the parties reach a solution. A new special adviser could help the parties achieve what they say they want, but the process, as a number of noble Lords have said, must be led by the Cypriots, who will need full ownership of any solution. I hope that my noble friend Lord Sharkey will understand if I am not drawn on names at this stage.
The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece spoke about the current state of play. Noble Lords will be aware that talks resumed on 11 February. The leaders have since then met five times and we welcome their commitment to reach a solution. Both sides now have a much better sense of each other’s positions and concerns, and they have begun seeking the common ground in a number of areas. We hope to see further progress from September, when we expect a new UN special adviser to be in place. We would also consider what further political support the Security Council could give to the process, including during the United Nations General Assembly week.
Leaders in both communities also need to prepare the public for a settlement. My noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece spoke about the civil society being engaged. I fully agree with her recommendations. As negotiations make progress, greater civil society involvement is highly desirable. This Government have given practical support to increasing civil society participation in the process. Just yesterday, business leaders from both sides reached an agreement on mobile phone roaming across the whole of Cyprus. As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, a better understanding of the benefits of a solution can only help ordinary Cypriots to make an informed decision in the referenda to come. I pay tribute to the work of the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who for many years has given huge service and commitment to this cause.
Her Majesty’s Government have also co-funded, with the United Nations, an initiative to promote the involvement of civic and business leaders in the talks. We also maintain good relations with a wide spectrum of Cypriot society and with the diaspora in London. Faith groups, too, have given their backing to the current talks and our High Commissioner in Cyprus attended the landmark Good Friday church service in Famagusta. In May, my right honourable friend the Minister for Europe and the Archbishop of Cyprus met in London and agreed the importance of interfaith dialogue in support of the talks. For the first time since 1963, Muslim prayers were recently held in a historic mosque in Nicosia.
In response to the noble Lord, Lord Wood, I can confirm that the UK has maintained the offer to cede nearly half the sovereign base area territories in the event of a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus.
The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, and others have rightly spoken of the economic benefits of a settlement. A united Cyprus would benefit from a larger and more efficient economy and an improved investment climate.
When the Minister says we are prepared to cede our sovereign territories to Cyprus, to which part of Cyprus does she mean? To the Greek Cypriot part if there is a settlement, to the Turkish Cypriot part if there is a settlement, or to both parts?
We hope that the settlement will ensure that there is a united Cyprus.
A united Cyprus would benefit from a larger and more efficient economy, an improved investment climate and improved trading relations with Turkey and the wider Middle East. A solution would also allow Cyprus fully to exploit its natural resources. I welcome the increased attention being paid to the economic dimension. More than a year after the bailout agreement, the Cypriot economy is doing better than expected, but there are challenges ahead. We are providing technical assistance in the area of public sector reform to support Cyprus’s efforts to implement the troika memorandum, which sets out the framework for troika support to the Cypriot economy. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, will see that as part of the UK’s support for public sector reform.
The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, also raised the issue of direct flights. This would, of course, help. The UK Court of Appeal has confirmed that direct flights from the UK to the northern part of Cyprus would breach our obligations under international law. The court found that it was for the Republic of Cyprus to determine which airports are open to international traffic, and as a result no airlines are licensed to operate flights from the UK direct to the north of Cyprus. The UK supports the European Commission’s proposal for a direct trade regulation to enhance the Turkish Cypriot community’s access to EU markets. Disagreements over the legal basis mean that this has not yet been agreed. A comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem would mean that such measures would not be required, since the whole island would enjoy the benefits of EU membership.
The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, asked about UK support at the time of the financial crisis. For a settlement to work, the Turkish Cypriot constituent state will need to be ready to function as part of a united Cyprus within the EU. Since 2004, the UK and the EU have funded a range of projects, including during the period of the financial crisis, supporting modernisation of the public administration, which we think is necessary in order to be ready for a settlement. Now that talks have resumed and are making progress, it may be time to look again at what more the EU could do so that a settlement is viable.
My noble friend Lord Balfe spoke about Turkish Cypriot isolation. The UK remains committed to supporting the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community and bringing Turkish Cypriots closer to Europe. They are, after all, EU citizens. The status quo is, of course, difficult for all Cypriots, and the Turkish Cypriots in particular feel the effects of Cyprus’s division.
I interrupt only briefly. Is there not a contradiction in what the Minister has just said? The Turkish Cypriots are members of the European Community, but we do not recognise them and we will not recognise them. To put it simply, we do not give any place to self-determination.
Of course, it is because there is a dispute that we are in the state that we are. It may not be the answer that the noble Lord wishes to hear, but unfortunately, that is the current state of play.
The noble Lord, Lord Wood, asked about an international conference. The UK stands ready to participate in such a conference once the parties have reached a greater level of convergence on the core issues of the settlement process. He also asked about the constitutional reform process. Again, we stand ready to respond to a request from either of the parties for technical advice on constitutional issues or to do anything to support the settlement process.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Northbrook, Lord Balfe and Lady Hussein-Ece asked about Cyprus’s exploitation of its natural resources. We accept the Republic of Cyprus’s sovereign right to exploit its natural resources and it remains our position that such resources should be exploited for the benefit of all the communities in Cyprus. Estimates of the scale of the natural resources vary, though the potential is clearly significant. We are aware of the Turkish Cypriot proposals on hydrocarbons and it is for the leaders of the two communities to work together on any proposals to share the revenue from Cyprus’s exclusive economic zone. We would welcome any agreement which the two communities can reach on this.
The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, asked about universities, including the Bologna process in higher education. We would support further measures to address Turkish Cypriot isolation. The British Council already helps Turkish Cypriot students access educational opportunities across Europe. However, once again the status of the north, as the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, has just mentioned, poses constraints on what we and the EU institutions can do.
Reunification is not only about economics. A settlement would make a substantial contribution to the security and prosperity of the region, unlock Turkey’s EU accession process and enable full co-operation between the EU and NATO. That is all the more important given the new challenges that a number of noble Lords referred to in the European neighbourhood, as we have seen in Ukraine. Turkey is Europe’s emerging power and Cyprus is the EU’s easternmost member. Both share a sometimes difficult region. A unified Cyprus could well become a role model of intercommunity harmony—one of peace and prosperity founded on deepening relationships with its neighbours.
We of course followed closely the Turkish Cypriots’ recent experience of the European parliamentary elections in Cyprus—something that my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece referred to. My officials in Nicosia have spoken to Turkish Cypriot politicians, Republic of Cyprus officials and the European Commission. We do not believe that the difficulties encountered on the day were due to deliberate obstruction by the Republic of Cyprus authorities, but that does not, of course, lessen the frustration and sense of discrimination felt by many Turkish Cypriots who believe that they were eligible for the first time to vote in these elections.
In conclusion, this debate has underlined the warmth of the ties between the UK and Cyprus, and that this Government firmly believe that a solution that meets the fundamental concerns of both communities is available. The benefits of a solution, whether political, economic, social or in terms of security, are clear. The parties have stated their willingness to reach a deal, and Cypriots of both communities want to live and prosper together in peace. This Government will continue to encourage them in that noble and achievable ambition. Once again, I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving us the opportunity to discuss these important issues.
House adjourned at 8.08 pm.