Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 225-239)

17 NOVEMBER 2004


  Q225 Chairman: Order. Mr Mirel, can I welcome you to the Committee. As you know, we are carrying out this inquiry into Cyprus, the possible ways forward, and a group from the Committee, led by John Maples, visited Cyprus last week, in fact, and he will be ready to ask questions. Can you begin by stating precisely what is your role in the Commission before I turn to Mr Maples?

  Mr Mirel: Yes, Chairman. Thank you very much, first of all, for having invited the European Commission representative. I appreciate that you would have liked Mr Verheugen to be here, to be present. Unfortunately, as you know, these days he is legally indisposed and, therefore, unfortunately he could not be present. Since July 2003 I have been responsible for the accession of the ten accession, now new, Member Countries, including Cyprus. Of course, since 1 May I am not dealing any more with the other nine countries but exclusively with Cyprus until probably in a few days where I will be also in charge of Turkey.

  Q226 Mr Maples: The negotiations that were conducted with Cyprus that Mr Verheugen has talked about, you were presumably with him at all of those and probably had meetings of your own that he was not present at?

  Mr Mirel: Yes, except one important meeting in Bürgenstock. I did not participate at the meeting in Bürgenstock. I stayed in Brussels to organise and provide all the technical support, in particular legal advice, that the Commission had promised the European Council to provide to the United Nations to help in finding a solution within (and that is important, I think) the EU legislation. Therefore, we provided technical advice, and legal advice in particular, to make sure that the Annan plan would be in conformity with the key principles on which the EU is founded.

  Q227 Mr Maples: Mr Verheugen said after the Cyprus referendum, when talking about the way the negotiations had been conducted, that he felt "cheated", was the word that he used, by the Greek Cypriots. Is that a view with which you concur?

  Mr Mirel: I know he said that. I was at the European Parliament when he made that declaration. Certainly he was extremely disappointed and very, very sad, not just him, but we all were, because we thought that a very important opportunity had been missed at the time.

  Q228 Mr Maples: Mr Verheugen was implying when he used the word "cheated" that he had been in some way lead to believe that the Greek Cypriots were negotiating in good faith, or were willing to reach a settlement along these lines and then go back to Cyprus and campaign for a "No" vote; that in some way they did not behave straightforwardly. Is that the implication of what he is saying?

  Mr Mirel: As you know, this goes back to 1995, when the deal was made whereby we would accept the membership application of Cyprus and would accept to open accession negotiations in exchange for Greece accepting a Customs Union with Turkey. A few years later in Helsinki, December 1999, a similar deal was made a step further, in actually saying that, even without a political settlement in Cyprus, Cyprus would be accepted as a Member State, and Turkey was granted the status of a candidate state. Therefore we all believed—and it was a whole strategy at the time—that this sort of two-track approach would provide sufficient incentives and pressure to make sure that the negotiations under the UN umbrella would be successful. Therefore, yes, at some point, we were all extremely disappointed at the outcome.

  Q229 Mr Maples: I think we are all disappointed, obviously, but does it go any further than that? You say you were not at Bürgenstock, but if you were in Brussels you were presumably in touch with what was happening there. Do you feel in some way misled by the way in which the Greek Cypriots negotiated? Did they lead you to believe that they were in favour of concluding an agreement along these lines and then, essentially, reneged on that and adopted a different position in the referendum?

  Mr Mirel: That was, indeed, our feeling. We thought that having accepted this two-track approach that would lead almost naturally to a successful conclusion. Then, I guess, the Greek Cypriot politicians, in my view, did not make enough efforts to convince their electorate and to prepare their electorate to accept the necessary compromises, and, more than that, I think that what strikes me is that over the past years most Greek Cypriot politicians have been looking more at the past than looking at the outcome of a new situation, and the world has changed, the situation has changed in the region. When you have Turkey being a candidate country, obviously you are not in the same position, are you?

  Q230 Mr Maples: These negotiations were going on in accordance with the Annan plan under which, if my memory is right, the parties had agreed that if they could not reach agreement, they would leave it to the Secretary-General to lay down a text. When that text is produced the Greek Cypriot Government then starts a "No" campaign, which I understand—and we were in Cyprus last week and we were told it was amazing how this "No" campaign clicked into action—must have been prepared well in advice, with posters, leaflets and campaign slogans. Is it negotiating in good faith if, on the one hand, you are talking to you and Mr Talat and the Secretary-General and on the other hand you are preparing a campaign, not just not to persuade the people of Cyprus, but to dissuade them, to persuade them to vote "No"?

  Mr Mirel: It was certainly extremely frustrating for all those who believed in the process, who believed that this double-track approach would lead to a successful conclusion.

  Q231 Mr Maples: Do you think that Mr Papadopoulos ever wanted an agreement along the lines of Annan 5?

  Mr Mirel: I would leave that for historians to come to a conclusion.

  Mr Maples: You are more of a diplomat than Mr Verheugen!

  Q232 Chairman: One question before Mr Pope and then Mr Mackay. Some claim that Mr Verheugen was debarred from putting the case for a "Yes" vote on the media in Cyprus. What is the EU view of that?

  Mr Mirel: I remember that former President Vassiliou deplored in a press conference that Mr Verheugen did not have an opportunity to actually present the outcome of the negotiations.

  Q233 Chairman: Had he actually formally sought to do so?

  Mr Mirel: Unfortunately, Mr Verheugen is not here to answer your question, Chairman, but certainly he would have been very pleased to have the opportunity to answer.

  Q234 Chairman: But he made clear that he wanted to put the case for the "Yes" vote?

  Mr Mirel: Certainly, yes, and he visited all the acceding countries—Hungary, Poland, etcetera—to help and plead for a "Yes" vote during the referendum campaign.

  Q235 Chairman: What was the form of the refusal?

  Mr Mirel: He was never refused. There was never any answer.

  Q236 Mr Pope: First of all, I want to ask a quick question which follows on from Mr Maples. Do you think, looking back at the whole negotiating process, it would have been better if the EU had said to both sides that neither side could come into the EU unless they agreed to the Annan plan?

  Mr Mirel: Frankly, the whole strategy was based on the idea that we would have to convince the Turkish Cypriot community and Turkey to accept the outcome of the negotiations under the Annan umbrella. No-one back in 1995, 1996, etcetera, would have ever believed that the opposite would have happened.

  Q237 Andrew Mackinlay: Some of us did, incidentally, but we are in a minority!

  Mr Mirel: You should have listened to him.

  Q238 Mr Pope: Certainly I was in the majority, and I think most of us were, that we thought it was unthinkable. We ought to listen to Mr Mackinlay more, I am sure.

  Andrew Mackinlay: You should!

  Q239 Mr Pope: The question that I wanted to ask was about the EU's aid package towards Northern Cyprus. Following the referendum in April the European Union agreed 259 million Euros of aid to Northern Cyprus, but, as I understand it, that aid has not yet arrived and it has been essentially blocked. I wonder if you could tell us if that is the case. Has it been blocked? Has it, effectively, been vetoed by the Government of the Republic of Cyprus?

  Mr Mirel: The Council, after the failure of the referendum in the south on 26 April, I think, drew the conclusion and asked the Commission to put forward comprehensive proposals to put an end to the isolation of North Cyprus and bring proposals for economic integration, etcetera, including proposing to use 259 million Euros, which had been ear-marked for North Cyprus, for the whole of Cyprus instead, in case there would be a political settlement. The European Commission put forward two proposals on 7 July, one to make use of these 259 million, and the second one to allow direct trade between North Cyprus and the EU Member States. Where do we stand right now? The proposal for aid for the 259 million package has been agreed. There is an agreement now between the 25 Member Countries, an agreement on technicalities, etcetera. However, the Dutch presidency, very rightly I think, has made a link between the two proposals, in saying, if we want to fulfil the mandate of the European Council, then we should have the two proposals accepted at some point. Aid is fine; without trade, not sufficient. Therefore, the two proposals are still on the table—it is a closed link between the two—and the Dutch Presidency is saying, "We would like a commitment from Cyprus whereby the trade proposal would be accepted at some point, after two or three months", whatever. So this is where we stand. Technically the aid proposal is agreed, but because of that link between the two, it does not go through. There will be a further discussion tomorrow. My conviction is that nothing is going to happen before 17 December.

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