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The Minister for Europe (Mr. Denis MacShane): I am grateful to the hon. Member for Congleton (Ann Winterton) for raising this important matter. In the short time left for me to reply, I shall try to respond to some of her points. I hope that she will forgive me if I do not enter into a full historical discourse on the problems of Cyprus. The hon. Lady made a passionate appeal and I hope that she will not disagree with me when I say that she made a strong partisan appeal from the position of the Turkish Cypriots. Had the debate taken place with more expert hon. Members of all parties present and with more time to spare, I could have replied in more detail to some of the historical points that she made.

Much wrong was done to both communities over the years. The British Government are now seeking not to right all the wrongs of the past, but to move forward. If we allow today to be the prisoner of the past, as Winston Churchill once said, we will never build a future. I do not believe that there are many in the international community who think that the way forward is a unilateral—and, if I may say so, provocative—recognition of the Turkish northern Cypriot state. That is certainly not the position of the United States or of Prime Minister Talat. It is not the position of all those who are working constructively to find both an international and, in particular, a European solution to the problems of Cyprus. It is undoubtedly through membership of the European Union—through its good offices and trading practices, its support for human rights and the rule of law, and other EU values—that a way forward can be found.
 
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I regret, of course, that we are not discussing today the courageous decision by the Cypriot people to form a new united Cyprus republic. Had both communities voted "yes" in the referendum, this debate would have taken place under very different terms.

We must not lose sight of the fundamental goal, which is to work to reunite Cyprus. It is not to encourage a sectarian split, if I might call it that, of the two communities into two states. I believe that the internal dynamic of the EU, combined with proposals to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots—which I hope will address some of the specific and important questions raised by the hon. Member for Congleton—can provide a catalyst to bring both communities together.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I discussed this matter with Mr. Günter Verheugen, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, this very afternoon. He fully supports encouraging both communities to come together, and the hon. Member for Congleton quoted him accurately earlier. He is concerned that, whereas the Turkish Cypriots voted clearly in favour of the Annan plan, the Greek Cypriots rejected it.

The immediate next step is the publication of the UN Secretary-General's report on his Good Offices mission. I certainly do not want to pre-empt that document. We will work in concert with the UN and other partners to ensure that we co-ordinate on next steps. Those comprehensive proposals for reuniting the island were a result of years of work, and compromise. Much of the finalised document is the result of the work of Cypriots themselves.

I repeat that I firmly believe that the plan provides a fair, just and lasting basis on which to reunite. There is no plan B or C. The referendum provided a chance for the Cypriots to state their views on their future, and we must respect the result. However, it is right to suggest that Greek Cypriots need to reflect on whether they made the right decision.

I believe that it was a great shame that the Greek Cypriots voted no, and that it was a mistake to reject the Annan plan. That offered the best possible compromise, and a basis on which a united Cyprus republic could have functioned effectively in the EU.

The Annan plan had clear advantages. Half of all Greek Cypriot refugees would have returned to their former homes, under Greek Cypriot administration. A property restitution scheme would have given dispossessed owners a much improved system for getting back a share of their property, and compensation for the remainder.

In addition, the plan contained strong and effective protections against migration from Turkey upsetting the ethnic balance of the island. Also, the amount of Greek Cypriot territory would have increased from 64 per cent. to 72 per cent. of a unified state, and the UN had agreed to oversee the transfer of territory to ensure that that happened according to the timetable. At the end of the process, the number of Turkish troops on the island would have been reduced to just 650 soldiers, as the hon. Member for Congleton noted, with great force. Finally, almost all the federal laws of a new united Cyprus republic, including the excellent economic arrangements to ensure financial viability, were drafted by Greek Cypriots.
 
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In the past 50 years, there have been movements of people all over Europe. We accept that the future of our common EU must be based on interdependence rather than on separatism. People must accept the facts as they are today: they must not hope for a return to the past, or to some imagined past that never properly existed.

We fully support the EU policy, agreed at the General Affairs and External Relations Council, following the referendums. Cyprus has changed. It would be wrong simply to return to the status quo prior to the referendums. We strongly believe that the Turkish Cypriots, who voted for a peaceful resolution of the Cyprus problem, should not be penalised because the Greek Cypriots rejected the UN settlement plans. Turkish Cypriots demonstrated their desire to be in the EU, as part of a united island.

That is why it is so important that our country and our Parliament take a lead in strengthening the integration of the European Union, so that Cyprus can find a peaceful role within it. We must reject the views of the separatists and anti-Europeans who would encourage those in Cyprus who want to divide the island permanently.

The hon. Lady asked about visa restrictions on students from the Turkish north and high-level visitors. It is simply a question of visas being appropriate for members of the European Union. Many Turkish Cypriots will be members of the EU by dint of having Republic of Cyprus passports. Turkish Cypriots from the north with such passports will be eligible for the same student visas as any other member of the European Union. The issue of university fees will be dealt with by the normal procedures that cover all EU member states.

We will approach the increased trade and travel activity with northern Cyprus on the basis of two principles. We will continue to work for the objective of
 
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reuniting the island as a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation. It would be wrong, therefore, to recognise the north of Cyprus as a separate, independent state. As I understand it, that is certainly not the wish of the present elected leadership of the Turkish Cypriots.

On trade, which is a matter of exclusive community competence, we are waiting for the Commission to bring a proposal to the European Council. In the Government's view, the Turkish Cypriots should be able to trade directly with the EU, importing and exporting through ports in north Cyprus. That will mean putting in place measures to permit duty-free imports of all goods wholly obtained or substantially manufactured in the north, provided that they satisfy the necessary EU checks and requirements. There would, of course, be a requirement that the goods enter via recognised border inspection posts, which could carry out the necessary checks.

We also await suggestions from the Commission for spending the €259 million structural funds earmarked for helping the north "catch up" with the EU acquis. We imagine that to that end the Commission will identify a mix of projects on infrastructure, environmental standards, training and legislation harmonisation. The Government, together with our European partners, seek to send a positive message to the Turkish community in northern Cyprus that Europe is their friend. We hope that Turkey as a whole can start accession talks to join the EU in due course. The future of Cyprus lies in the European Union, as the Mediterranean is a strong part of the future policy—

The motion having been made after Seven o'clock, and the debate having continued for half an hour, Madam Deputy Speaker adjourned the House without Question put, pursuant to the Standing Order.




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