MEPs differ over Cyprus’ future
By Rory Watson | Thursday 12 July 2012
Sir Graham Watson, the president of European Liberal Democrats, has accused the European Union of abdicating its responsibility over Cyprus by leaving the challenge of ending the division of the island to the United Nations.
“I think we made a mistake,” he told
Europoliticsshortly before leading a Liberal delegation to Cyprus on the eve of the country’s first EU Presidency. “I remember raising it at the time when Javier Solana [the EU’s former foreign policy high representative] decided that the EU did not – he even said ‘could not’ – intervene to help find a solution for Cyprus because it was a matter being dealt with by the UN. Frankly, that was an evasion of responsibility. I said it to him at the time. It has continued to be the case since.”
Over the past year, the UN has voiced its increasing frustration. In January, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted that negotiations on sensitive issues were “close to deadlock”. In April, he confirmed there would be no international conference this year.
While wishing the EU would play a more vigorous peace brokering role in the process, the British Liberal MEP acknowledges that the prospect for progress is poor. “You not only have an end-of-term government in the South of the island, which I suspect will be succeeded by a government of a more right-wing hue. You also have a government in the North, which seems incapable of new thinking and seems very much under the influence of Turkey. What Cyprus needs is strong political leadership from someone who is committed to unification,” he says.
His British parliamentary colleague, Marina Yannakoudakis, a Conservative MEP for London, takes a very different view. She firmly believes that any breakthrough must come from the Cypriots themselves without outside involvement. “I do not think that anyone but the parties concerned can do anything. If we try to impose, or to push them towards, an agreement they are not happy with, it would not work,” she says.
Instead, she places the onus firmly on Turkey. “The main problem as far as I can see is the Turkish influence. Greece has stepped out of it. The UK has stepped out of it. It is now time for Turkey to move out and let the island reunite,” she says.
The British MEP is equally critical of the policy articulated by Ankara of not dealing directly with the Cyprus Presidency. “I think Turkey should recognise that Cyprus is a member of the EU and that since it wishes to join the EU, it makes sense to talk to member states. You are not going to join a club if you don’t speak to half the members. It doesn’t bode well for them if they don’t.”
DIFFERING DEGREES OF COOPERATION
Both Sir Graham and Yannakoudakis were members of the High-Level Contact Group for Relations with the Turkish Cypriot Community in the Northern Part of the Island, which the European Parliament established in 2005. Its mandate was to establish contact with political representatives in the broadest sense of the term, to gather information on the region’s political and socio-economic situation, to pass on information about the EU, to monitor the use and impact of EU aid and to update the European Parliament “on how the situation develops”.
The group’s mandate ended at the beginning of the year and whether it continues or not is now in the hands of Parliament’s Conference of Group Presidents. Yannakoudakis is keen that it does. She stresses that its mission is not to try to find a solution, but to provide a vital communication channel for Turkish Cypriots. “The unions and NGOs, which come and speak to us, say that we are the only people standing between them and the Turkish government’s influence in the occupied zone,” she explains.
The Conservative MEP points to practical daily contacts between the two communities. On a recent visit, she noted that Turkish Cypriots were coming into the free zone to work and use facilities like hospitals. “They are cooperating on the ground.”
Sir Graham would like that cooperation to be more ambitious. He cites three economic studies that calculate a solution to the political impasse could add up to 5% to the country’s GDP. “That is quite remarkable,” he says, noting that the recent discovery of significant oil and gas deposits offers scope for cooperation on drilling and bringing supplies on shore.
Yannakoudakis’ interest in Cyprus focuses in particular on two sensitive issues. The first is the hunt for the remains of the 1,964 missing persons – 1,464 Greek Cypriots and 502 Turkish Cypriots – who went missing during the 1974 Turkish invasion and in civil unrest ten years earlier.
The EU has donated some €2.5 million to the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, which has so far found 562 sets of remains. Yannakoudakis is calling for more funds to help the hunt and has asked the Commission to put pressure on Turkey to grant the committee access to military sites. “The reason I took it up was that I thought it was a very Cypriot issue because it involved both Turkish and Greek Cypriots and I thought for them to find peace among themselves, they had to have peace in this area. Everyone can relate to the pain of losing someone.”
Her other campaigning theme is to legalise homosexuality – Northern Cyprus is the only place in Europe where it is still illegal and can lead to a five-year prison sentence. She has had assurances from Turkish Cypriot leader Dervis Eroglu that he would repeal the ban, but six months after giving them, he has still not done so.
Despite their different views, the passage of time is working against both MEPs. Sir Graham notes that the division of the island is less of an issue for the younger generations “and political support for a solution is ebbing away”. Yannakoudakis points out that potential witnesses of missing persons are becoming fewer. “It is an issue that involves both communities and would help towards the reconciliation process.”
The EU has donated some €2.5 million to the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus, which has so far found 562 sets of remains. Yannakoudakis is calling for more funds to help the hunt