Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Written Evidence

Written evidence submitted by Andrew Dismore MP

  I previously submitted my speech of 6 July, in the adjournment debate on Cyprus, as evidence to the select committee inquiry. After my visit to Cyprus from Sunday 10 to Wednesday 13 October 2004, I thought that I would offer some further comments. I also visited Athens in the previous week.

  In the aftermath of the failure of the referendum, and consequent events, relations between the UK and Cyprus are very poor. Indeed, it was commented to me, that they were "as bad as the 1950's" by a leading Greek Cypriot. Support for this view is shown by the number of people who raised the question of the sovereign base areas. I do not think there is any serious attempt to open up the future of the bases, but the fact that they are raised by so many people is an indication of the poor relationship. The real problem is not so much UK support for the Annan plan and arguing for a "yes vote" in the referendum, but the reactions to the "no vote" afterwards. This was perceived as hostile to the Republic, and the talk of "punishment" and "rewards" to the Turkish Cypriots has been seen as entirely counterproductive, in the Republic.

  Turning to the referendum, the overall view both in Athens and in Cyprus, was that Annan 5 was bound to fail. It seems to be more about Turkey than about Cyprus, to the Greek Cypriots. Whilst Annan 3 might have had a better chance, I suspect that would also have failed. There is great resentment over the accusation that the referendum failed because of a lack of leadership. This is not only factually inaccurate, as is shown by the exit polls (see my speech in the Adjournment Debate on Tuesday the 6th of July 2004), but also suggests that the Greek Cypriots could not think for themselves. They are educated people and are well able to analyse the issues. This is shown by the reaction of many of those who have campaigned long and hard for rapprochement with Turkish Cypriots, who came to the conclusion that they should vote no, often for different reasons. If there was any leadership failure, it was an overstatement by certain leaders, that they could deliver their supporters for a yes vote, when realistically they had no prospect of selling what was regarded as an unsaleable product by their own people. This is shown, for example, by the serious divisions within AKEL which meant that the leadership had to change their position: whilst the leadership supported the yes vote, they could not bring the central committee with them, thus leading to the "finessing" of their position, calling for postponement of the referendum. DISY suffered badly for their support, in the subsequent European election campaign.

  It seems to me that UK policy must aim to do what we can, to restore equilibrium in our relationships with Cyprus. We have to work to bring the prosolution forces in the North and the South together. We have to support progressive forces in the North, who are under threat from a resurgent Denktashh. There is little prospect of a major international initiative from the outside. Indeed, it seems that whenever proposals come from outside these are doomed to failure. There is little enthusiasm from the UN to attempt another initiative in the immediate future. What we ought to do is to help create the climate for a solution from inside the island, looking at confidence building measures.

  We have to do so in the context of the relationship with Turkey in the accession process. Turkey must be given its date to commence negotiations, otherwise there is no prospect for Cyprus. It is worrying that DIKO, the President's party with the support of EDEK the Socialist party, are talking about the possible use of a Cyprus veto on Turkey's application for a commencement of negotiations date, if the recommendation from the Commission is not amended to include references to Turkish troop withdrawals from Cyprus and progress towards a settlement. The process with Turkey provides the key opportunity to keep up efforts towards a settlement.

  It is also interesting to note the attitude of Greece. The incoming Karamanlis New Democracy Party Government did not adopt a leading role in the referendum, unlike Pasok. The New Democracy Government said that they would support the (Greek) Cypriots under President Papadopoulos, whatever they decided. From my discussions in Greece, it seems clear to me that the Greeks now regard Cyprus as a lower priority, and will not allow differences over Cyprus to affect their relationships with Turkey. They are much more concerned about solving their own bilateral problems, as evidenced by the Commission recommendations on Turkish accession, which refer to the Aegean disputes.

  We also ought to be aware of the position of UK nationals in Cyprus, with particular reference to those in the North. There is a major construction boom in the North and the largest number of property purchases, mainly of holiday homes and indeed permanent residences and mainly built on Greek Cypriot land, are by UK nationals, who not only help create a poor climate with the Greek Cypriots, but also are potentially jeopardising their own financial position.


  It seems to me that we need to look at "win/win" ideas.

  President Papadopoulos ought to be invited to London for an official visit. There is a lot of ill feeling that "Prime Minister" Talat was invited to the UK, albeit for an "unofficial" visit as leader of the Turkish Cypriots, rather than "Prime Minister" of the "TRNC" but it is resented that President Papadopoulos has not been invited since his election, even though there are informal discussions at European Union meetings between the UK Government and President Papadopoulos.

  The issue of direct trade with the North has created a significant backlash. This is not the way forward. The real problem on the island is the lack of trade, altogether. Direct trade would not make a great deal of impact on the Turkish Cypriot economy, probably as little as 60-70 million dollars. Trade across the Green Line is only 50 million euros. The Turkish Cypriots' argument in favour of direct trade and direct flights is a protectionist argument; and the resistance to direct flights in the South is a misguided protectionist argument, rooted in concerns over the reduction in the tourist trade over the last three years.

  With the conclusion of the Customs Union Agreement to include Cyprus / Turkey direct trade, strange consequences have followed. For example, Turkish goods imported into the Republic of Cyprus are cheaper than Turkish goods on sale in Northern Cyprus. However, the Turkish Cypriots are not coming with "clean hands". There is still an absolute ban by `TRNC' on trade travelling South to North, and efforts to open new crossing points have been met with spurious arguments over the cost of staffing them from the Turkish Cypriot side. The Turkish Cypriots are worried about the Greek Cypriots getting a larger foothold in their economy, a protectionist argument. In fact, there is very little economy in the North, the manufacturing is not competitive, and nor is agriculture.

  There are significant delays at the few crossing points that already exist, which deter Greek Cypriots from travelling North. This is particularly so at weekends and holidays periods, when they would be happy to travel North and spend their money there, a home grown and reliable tourist market, largely untapped due to TRNC restrictions. The crossing point delays are a major problem.

  Having also discussed the issue with the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce, it seems to me the way forward is to talk about free trade on the island rather than direct trade. If the barriers to trade within the island could be removed, on both sides, this is the quickest and easiest way significantly to improve the Turkish Cypriot economy, particularly allowing much more freedom of movement to tourists from outside the island to travel North, using Larnaca airport for this purpose, for example. This can only really happen if the Turkish Cypriots lift their embargo on goods from the South, and allow much more freedom of movement across the Green Line. There are also complaints about the Republic imposing various unnecessary restrictions, for example on lorries and drivers travelling from the North. It is said that these are for safety purposes, but there ought to be a system of adjudication of such disputes to find out what are required by EU rules, and what constitute unnecessary red tape or political postures, from both sides.

  If we can promote free trade and make this happen, the question of direct trade can be subsumed into a wider strategic overview, dealing with the major problems which have arisen as a result of too narrow a view, to the benefit of the economies of both communities.

  The time is good for a further initiative on the missing persons. The Greek Cypriots have provided information about the fate of a large number of Turkish Cypriot missing persons, to the `TRNC', but Denktashh has failed to pass that information on to the Turkish Cypriot relatives. This could be a way for Mr Talat to reinforce his position in the North, if he were to adopt a more constructive approach, as against Denktashh (who will not).

  The EU aid package needs to be looked at very carefully as to what it is being used for. It is restricted, and cannot be used for development on Greek Cypriot land, whether in private or state ownership, but it may be possible that some of this could be used towards reconstruction of Famagusta. It is also appropriate to consider a new Famagusta / Varosha approach. It seems that there is likely support for a joint initiative from the two local communities, as the Mayors work closely together, with a view to obtaining international funds for restoration of the old town, rebuilding of the port and also opening Varosha to the return of the Greek Cypriot community, based around growth of tourism to the mutual benefit of both sides. The joint initiative with bids perhaps to the EU for reconstruction funds, or UNESCO (cf Dubrovnik) could be a way of making progress on all these issues.

  We should look at the implications of the major construction boom in the North. This is creating serious facts on the ground which will become more difficult to unscramble, the longer it goes on. Many UK nationals are buying properties with dubious titles. What they do not realise are the risks they are taking, and in particular that their homes in the UK could be at risk from legal action by Greek Cypriots who own the land on which their Northern Cyprus properties are built. A Greek Cypriot could obtain a Judgment very easily in, say, the Kyrenia Court in the Republic of Cyprus, which is then enforceable in the UK courts against a British property owner. Indeed, plans are already afoot to bring such a claim against a UK company, and it cannot be long before such a case is brought against a UK national. I believe it is important that we must give much clearer and better advice to UK nationals who are looking to buy property in Northern Cyprus.

  As well as confidence building measures, we should consider what we can do to encourage progress towards a settlement. The Republic of Cyprus needs to indicate clearly what they want changed in the Annan plan. There has been a lot of discussion around this, and AKEL say that they are "90%" in agreement with the President as to what needs to be changed, but it is not clear whether this applies to the remainder of the parties.

  There are two `classes' of issue. There are the questions of implementation (deadlines, dates); and of substance, for example the presence of Turkish troops and the right of intervention by Turkey.

  It would make sense for efforts to be made, to see what could be done on the implementation issues which only affect the Cypriot community, North and South. I certainly formed the opinion that the Turkish Cypriots are willing to negotiate on these issues direct with the Republic, once they know what they want.

  One of the difficulties is that President Papadopoulos will not meet Mr Talat, as he is not seen as leader of the Turkish Cypriots, whilst Denktashh is around. It is important that Mr Talat (or another progressive) wins the elections for the Presidency of the `TRNC' in April. President Papadopoulos needs to be encouraged to meet with Mr Talat in whatever format can be made acceptable.

  One of the problems is the relationship between the various pro-solution parties in the Republic; and between pro-solution, North and South parties—political relations between AKEL and CTP are regrettably particularly strained. There are also long standing divisions between the pro-solution politicians in the North, much of which is rooted in personality as much as policy.

  There is no doubt, though, that if any settlement is to be possible, progress has to be made on the Turkish troops issue, and from discussions in Northern Cyprus it is clear that they have no real enthusiasm for Turkish troops being permanently stationed after the settlement, long term, and especially after Turkish EU entry.

  There are risks in any Republic of Cyprus policy, to "play it long", hoping that the Turkish accession procedure will give some conditionality towards a possible settlement. Greece is not going to be supportive to Cyprus blocking progress on Turkey. The demography is working strongly against the Republic, in that, for example, Turkish Cypriots are moving South in greater numbers both to work and also to access EU passports to either work in the South or leave the island altogether. As they do so, they are replaced by Turkish settlers, particularly in the building trade working on the construction boom to which I have referred. Time is not on the side of the island, progress has to be made.

  If anyone visits Cyprus in the near future, there are people I would suggest that they should meet who are not normally on the "usual list": these include Costas Apostalides, who worked on behalf of the Republic of Cyprus on the technical committees behind the Annan plan, and who is a expert on the economy and measures that can be taken to avoid the legal and technical problems that have arisen to block trade; Ali Erel, from the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce, who has good ideas on how to develop trade; Elias Georgiades, the Greek Cypriot representative on the UN Missing persons committee who can give a lot of information about possible confidence building measures on this issue; and Achilleas Dimitriades, a Greek Cypriot lawyer who handled the Loizidou case, and who is dealing with a large number of cases over property issues as a result of the occupation, and who can give a lot of information about the risks to UK nationals of buying in the North.

  Contacts should also be made with Costas Carras who is the Chair of the Greek/Turkish Forum, and who is extremely well connected as a member of civil society in Greece and is a long standing expert on the issue of Greek / Turkish relations, as well as the Cyprus problem.

  It would also be sensible to meet Mr Kassoulides now MEP, former Foreign Minister in the Clerides Government; and Mr Anastassides, Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee and leader of DISY.

  I would be happy to expand on and support this note either in oral evidence or informally, with members of the Committee.

Andrew Dismore MP

Vice Chair, Friends of Cyprus

October 2004

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