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Nothing could be crueller than for us to say that as we are now 27 or 28 countries, that we want to go deeper and that we are not really interested in what is happening on our doorstep. If Russia and Georgia were to kick off in the same way as my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne was talking about, that will leave misery and huge problems in its wake, which will suck us in. We can hardly talk about carrying out operations in Africa and Somalia while turning our backs on what is happening on our doorsteps. We need to get that right. We need to get strategies together and to talk to other European Union leaders, including President Sarkozy, who has been an amazing president
of the European Council for the past six months. I hope that when it comes to 31 December, however good he has been, he will realise that the Czechs will be taking over and must be given a fair wind to do what they want to do with the European Union, too.
I am not totally opposed to Europe. I like the European Union countries and I like visiting them, too, but I am British first. I believe in the sovereignty of our Parliament and that is why people elected me. I want Europe to develop in the interests of all the people of Europe, and that is another reason why I think that it is right from time to time to consult the British people on how they wish to be governed.
Mr. David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley (Mr. Evans), and I pay tribute to him for his wide-ranging speech. When my right hon. Friend the Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) spoke on behalf of the Opposition at the beginning of the debate, he was concerned that the debate was developing in a ritualistic form in its early stages. The speech given by my hon. Friend the Member for Ribble Valley, however, was wide-ranging and covered many areas of concern in relation to Europe.
I support my hon. Friends comments about Turkey and its progress towards accession into the EU. It is important that the goalposts that have been set are not moved during the accession negotiations. One of those goalposts has to do with Cyprus, and the need to move to reunification of that island. In an animated speech, the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) recounted her childhood memories of Berlin. She talked about a divided city, a city of walls where there was a lack of freedom of movement and travel, and sadly, that reminded me of the situation in Cyprus. The island is one of the EUs member states, but many of the concerns facing Greek and Turkish Cypriots closely resemble those that she described.
The question of Cyprus is relevant to this debate because the EUs General Affairs and External Relations Council made particular reference to the island only yesterday, and also because of the concerns about Turkeys accession to Europe. The Council expressed regret at Turkeys failure to implement the additional protocol to the Ankara agreementone of the goalposts that have been set in place. It called on Ankara to take urgent measures in that direction and to normalise its relationship with the Republic of Cyprus.
One of the blockages in the accession negotiations is the full implementation of the customs union agreement with the EU. If that legal agreement were implemented, it would allow Cypriot ships to use Turkish ports and fly the Cyprus flag. That element of the customs union agreement will be reviewed in the summer. The legal agreement needs to be looked at separately from the issues relating to Cyprus, but it is a key stepping stone in the process of Turkish accession to the EU.
The Council also noted the importance of getting a just solution to the Cyprus problem on the basis of relevant UN Security Council resolutions. That is of great interest to the House and to the Government. I know that the Minister for Europe went to Cyprus
shortly after her appointment, and no doubt she will be able to give the House the benefit of her experience when she responds to the debate.
The Government are a guarantor power for Cyprus and so clearly have an interest in what happens with the island. Another reason for their interest is that there is a widespread diaspora of Cypriots in this country. Many of them, both Greek and Turkish Cypriots, landed in my constituency and have stayed there. Beyond that, the British Government have a strategic interest in Cyprus as a result of its location, and because we have sovereign bases there.
Cyprus is also visited very often, indeed predominantly, by British citizens, many of whom choose to stay in the country. In addition, Britains commercial interests in the island are very much to the fore. As an aside, I note that the pre-Budget reports announcement on air passenger duty has created another type of division in Cyprus. The 2,000-mile limit means that people can fly to Larnaca without the duty being imposed, whereas it is imposed on those who fly just a little further to Paphos. The Government have thereby created a disincentive for the tourist industry in Paphos, and I hope that they rectify it.
However, the division in Cyprus goes way beyond concerns about air passenger duty. The island has faced problems and tensions for 45 years. I do not propose to go through its history today, but it is important to look at the European dimension to Cyprus, which joined the EU on 1 May 2004. It joined as a divided island, but I want to make it clear that the whole island is in the EU, although EU legislation and the rest of the acquis communautaire are suspended in the north until a solution is found.
Turkish Cypriots are European Union citizens; they are citizens of a member state, the Republic of Cyprus. The concern that everyone has is how we can move towards solving the Cyprus problem. It is a question that I am often asked on the doorstep in my constituency, and I receive a number of communications on it. Indeed, just yesterday I received a communication from a local Cypriot on the Cyprus problem. His letter concluded that
the Cyprus conflict is like the Gordian knot and can not be undone, in a million years. It is doomed and cursed to be the headache of all concerned.
Sadly, that is the view of one constituent, but it is not shared by other constituents, and certainly not by leaders in Cyprus. Indeed, the prospects for solving the Cyprus problem have in many ways never looked better. We have the best opportunity to reach a solution.
President Demetris Christofias said at the beginning of his presidency that his priority was to end the division of the island. He began talks with Mehmet Ali Talat, the leader of the Turkish Cypriots. They have a close personal and political relationship. Indeed, earlier in the debate we were talking about Euro-communists; President Christofias may well want to align himself with them. The reality is that it is in the interests of those of all political creeds and races to seek a solution to the Cyprus problem.
The early signs were good; in a hugely symbolic gesture, barriers came down in Ledra street, a key thoroughfare in Nicosia, on 3 April 2008. That was significant. Formal talks began and are ongoing. At the beginning of the meetings on 3 September, Alexander Downer, the UNs new envoy to Cyprus, said:
Its going to take a long time and its going to be a difficult negotiation...But what you have here is the political will, and the political will is very good.
Together with other hon. Members from the British Friends of Cyprus committee, I went to Cyprus two weeks ago and saw that political good will. We were not encumbered by the air passenger duty. We saw for ourselves the state of play as regards the talks. We certainly saw good will on both sides.
It is clear that the outline of a settlement has been agreed. Under that settlement, Cyprus would be a bicommunal, bi-zonal, federal state that respects a single sovereignty and has a single political identity. The talks address very difficult questions, including the number of Turkish troops in what is probably the most militarised area in the world; the issue of settlers from mainland Turkey; and the issue of properties and the number of refugees who will be allowed to return to their pre-war homes.
It was expected that the first chapter of the talks, on governance and power sharing, would have been dealt with by now. Unfortunately, they have taken longer than expected, and we expect the parties to move on to the next stage in a couple of weeks. They will then move on to the next chapter, on propertyan issue on which there are many problems to be overcome. However, there is certainly good will, and we urge people to ensure that all steps are taken and all efforts made to reach a conclusion. Many would say that the current opportunity is the best there has been for decades, and we must do all we can to support it.
During the visit, colleagues and I went to a number of areas, and I want briefly to reflect on them and my assessment of the situation. We went along the buffer zonethe green linefor 3 km. It was a desperately sad experience; it would have been so in any buffer zone, but it was tragic in Cyprus. We saw on both sides of the zone parts of the city of Nicosia that have been frozen in time and are crumbling. On each side, the Cypriot national guard and the Turkish army look at each other. The tragedy was strangely tempered by a visit further along the buffer zone to the United Nations missing persons laboratory. On the one hand, it is an extremely sad situation, as many Turkish and Greek Cypriots went missing during the conflict. On the other hand, that deeply tragic situation contains the seeds of hope and, indeed, reconciliation. A project has been started on a bicommunal basis, and it is making progress. The donorsthe United Kingdom, Greece, Turkey and Germanyhave provided funding of €2.4 million to try to ensure that the truth about missing persons comes out.
We heard that progress has been made. Since 2006, the remains of more than 450 people who lost their lives have been found, and 107 have been identified. It is hoped that over the next year a further 300 will be identified to allow families who have lost loved ones to be able to begin the grieving process after all those years. It is immensely encouraging that the project is led by the committee on a bicommunal basis. Indeed, the technicians and scientists at the laboratory come from both communities, which points the way forward for the future, and casts doubt on the communication from my
Cypriot constituent saying that there was no hope in a million years, because hope has already been found by that committee and by those technicians.
The other positive sign is what has taken place on Ledra street, which I mentioned. The opening took place on 3 April. It was closed for 44 years, and its opening is a confidence-building measure. The opportunity naturally to go from one side of Nicosia to the other and to be able to communicate with both communitiesboth communities can communicate and trade with each other, and have some normal relationsis welcome. However, it would be so much more of a confidence-building measure if it was not necessary for Cypriots to show a passport on the way through. I spoke to a councillor in Nicosia, Mrs. Kommatsis, who is in charge of the cultural restoration of Nicosia. She is a proud Cypriot and Nicosian, but she does not feel able to make that crossing, because she would have to show her passport. She considers that Cyprus as a whole is her country, and that she should not have to do so. It would be a significant confidence-building measure if passport controls were relaxed for Cypriots and EU citizens, to allow free movement, about which the hon. Member for North-East Derbyshire spoke, and which her family no doubt desperately wanted in Berlin.
There were other positive signs of restoration work in Nicosia, and it was good to see them. It was good, too, to talk to the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Education and Culture in Cyprus, and to hear about the creation of a culture of peaceful coexistence and understanding. That unit is particularly trying to understand the identity of both communities and, for the first time, it has made it an absolute priority, in relation to literature and culture, to ensure that schoolchildren better understand other communities, whether they be Greek Cypriot or Turkish Cypriot communities. Work is also under way in relation to historical dialogue, to ensure that history is properly reflected, so that as Cypriots move to the future there can be greater reconciliation. Citizenship education, too, is under way.
Those are all positive signs, but we are concerned that greater progress should be made. The Council of the European Union has provided assistance to the north. On 26 April 2004, the General Affairs and External Relations Council declared:
The Turkish Cypriot community have expressed their clear desire for a future within the European Union. The Council is determined to put an end to the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot community and to facilitate the reunification of Cyprus by encouraging the economic development of the Turkish Cypriot community. The Council invited the Commission to bring forward comprehensive proposals to this end with particular emphasis on the economic integration of the island and on improving contact between the two communities and with the EU.
It is important that that sum is spent on confidence-building measures to bring the communities together, not least in the area of cultural heritage. I was able to see for myself the damage and desecration that has taken place when I visited the Maronite community of Cyprus in the north. The Maronite community is an integral part of the island and has had a presence in Cyprus since 900 AD. Their language, Aramaic, is part of their liturgy, andthis is appropriate just before Christmasit was used by Jesus and his family. According to historical documents, there were 64 Maronite villages
with a population of about 80,000 people, making it the second largest community in Cyprus after the Greek Cypriot community. Over the years of persecution, the number of Maronites living in Cyprus decreased to 500 and the number of villages decreased to four.
I was able to visit two of those four villages, Kormakitis and Karpashia. Sadly, I was unable to visit Ayia Marina and Asomatos, because they are part of a Turkish military zone. The representative of the Maronite community, who has observer status in the Parliament in Cyprus, made the case that it would be a significant confidence-building measure if the Turkish army were to relocate from the two Maronite villages, Ayia Marina and Asomatos, and allow Maronites to return. It was positive to see rebuilding taking place in the village of Kormakitis. Maronites are coming back, but they must be encouraged further.
The Maronite community considers itself a minority community caught in the middle of an international conflict. As a religious minority with a 1,000-year history on the island, it wants its rights to be respected.
Mr. Evans: Those of us who have visited Cyprus in general, and Kyrenia in particular, know that if the island could be joined, the potential for tourism and economic growth would be amazing. I fully agree with my hon. Friend that confidence-building measures are necessary. Does he believe that Turkey could play a fuller role in trying to influence what is going on in northern Cyprus to try to get both sides to come together, which itself might be a confidence-building measure in getting other EU countries to accept Turkey as a full member of the European Union?
Mr. Burrowes: I was in Kyrenia two weeks ago, when I saw for myself how fantastic it is. Sadly, it is being affected by booming development, including development on Greek Cypriot land, which has created a significant obstacle to seeking a solution. Every development provides an extra obstacle to seeking a solution.
Turkey has a key part to play; indeed, it already plays a key role in the north. I had coffee in northern Nicosia with some Turkish Cypriots, who were concerned about their decreasing numbers and reduced identity. Their concern is that Turkey is too dominant on the issue of negotiations. They referred me to a press report saying that Mr. Talat had said that he must ensure that he has the support of Ankara in relation to negotiations and his own re-election.
My concern is that Cyprus should be able to stand on its own two feet, in respect of both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots. Turkey has a role to play in loosening its grip on the north, certainly in relation to the significant issue of the role of its troops. It could show its confidence in the Maronite community by removing the troops from the villages that are part of the base.
Turkey could show good faith and respect the sovereignty of Cyprus in relation to another issue. When we were in Cyprus, it was an issue of particular concern. There have been exploratory surveys for hydrocarbon reserves in the Republic of Cyprus. It would be excellent for Cyprus if oil were found and tapped into the economy. That would benefit all Cyprus, a united Cyprus. Those reserves are in the exclusive economic zone, 13 miles from Limassol and 1.5 miles from its territorial waters. Unfortunately, however, Turkey has challenged with
warships the right for the research to be carried out. A Norwegian company has said that its ships have been harassed by Turkish warships. It is in the interests of both President Christofias and Mr. Talat to ensure that the full potential of those hydrocarbon reserves is secured and that the sovereign integrity of the whole island, its territorial waters and exclusive economic zone can be respected. Saying that he wants Turkish Cypriots to gain from that research, rather than its being an issue for Turkey, is a key test for Mr. Talat.
As I said, as we approach the new year, the opportunity for a solution is better than it has been for decades. Some might ask why we should not wait and whether the issue should be a priority for the British Government. As the British Government are a guarantor power, and given the active interest and concerns, it should be a priority; otherwise, the division of the island will become entrenched in Cypriot minds, particularly those of younger Cypriots of the two communities, who have not had much contact with each other. The fact that the buildings that I mentioned are being developed, particularly on Greek Cypriot land, is an obstacle to reunification and the division is further entrenched.
It is also in the interests of Turkeys accession negotiations to progress to reunification. Resolving the Cyprus problem is a key issue as we consider, and want to support, Turkeys accession. Reunification is also in the interests of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots; they would have the benefits together of a reunited island. It is important that the negotiations do not resort to what has been a rule of diplomacy in Cyprus, in an adaptation of Newtons law of physics: any proposal from one party immediately provokes an equal and contrary reaction from the other. It is a zero-sum game.
It is important that the confidence-building measures have a reality to them and are not, as the mayor of Famagusta put it to me, exercises in futility. We look to the ghost town of Varosha to see whether progress can be made on what has been since 1974 an abandoned and uninhabited town. We want that situation to change and to see refugees come back to Varosha. At an early stage, experts could go in to see what could be done to enable that to happen. Furthermore, the port of Famagusta is underused. The two areas should be freed up so that trade can be renewed under an agreed international administration such as the United Nations or the European Union, to benefit all, and so that trade and justice can be pursued and refugees can return to the village.
What of the future for the negotiations to resolve the Cyprus problem? It has been said that no one has ever lost money betting against their successful outcome. However, I am not a betting man. Will the Minister and the Government do everything in their power to support the good will that is present at the talks to ensure that the most is made of the opportunity in the next six months? Will they play a key role in terms of the support for Turkish accession to Europe? Will they ensure that Cyprus does not remain divided and a scar, primarily for the island, but also for Europe? In relation to the wider interests in the region, will they ensure that Cyprus is not just a pawn in a wider game of chess, and that the rule of law, justice and the United Nations resolutions are properly respected, not sacrificed for wider strategic interests? I look forward to a time when we can debate Europe in the context of a united island
of Cyprus, with a bi-zonal or bi-communal federal solution based on political equality, single sovereignty, one citizenship and one international personality.
I want finally to turn to another area of interestthe middle east, Iran and the role played there by the European Union. The concern in relation to Iran is that it is threatening and destabilising the region, particularly Israel through its support for Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Palestinian terror groups of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Given the intransigence of Iran in relation to the nuclear proliferation programme, the European Union should do more to challenge it through sanctions and consider other targets such as the Central Bank of Iran, which plays a role in relation to funding terrorism and propping up the activities of nuclear proliferation, and other agents that help to support Irans energy sector and the outlawed financial institutions.
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