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European Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighbourhood Policy
Meeting with political parties representing the Greek Cypriot community and the Turkish Cypriot community
Official visit to Cyprus
Nicosia, 14 October 2010
I am very happy to share this evening with you and I thank you for accepting my invitation. I am particularly pleased to see that party leaders from all political parties of Cyprus are represented here and I am grateful for this.
I know that there is another format which meets in the context of the bi-communal forum of political parties which has existed for over 20 years under the excellent auspices of the Slovak Ambassador to Cyprus and it is a pleasure to welcome Ambassador Anna Turenicova. I have read through the Bratislava Joint Communique which this Group adopted last year. So I am aware that the forum - and I quote - "gave the political parties the chance to develop a useful dialogue based on the spirit of co-operation, reflection, and mutual understanding.” I am pleased that the ambassador of my own country is also here and I also welcome Ambassador Jan Bondy.
I would like to offer some introductory remarks before we can engage in less formal discussions during the dinner reception.
It has been a long and inspiring day for me on my first visit to Cyprus as Member of the European Commission. It has given me a personal insight into many aspects of the Cyprus issue and I have felt the emotional weight of this long-lasting conflict. I met the leaders of the two communities, Demetris Christofias and Dervis Eroglu as well as Alexander Downer, the Special Representative of the UN Secretary General. They all gave me their perspective on the ongoing settlement process.
I participated this morning together with the leaders and Mr Downer in the opening ceremony for the new Limnitis crossing point at the Green Line. We also visited two villages north and south of the buffer zone, Limnitis/Yesirilmak and Kato Pyrgos. In the early evening I had the opportunity to meet families of missing persons together with the representatives of the leaders. I was particularly touched by the movie on the work of the Committee on Missing Persons.
Finally just before coming here I met representatives from the business community of both sides.
And let me say: what I experienced today, gives me hope. The opening of the Limnitis crossing point this morning shows that progress can be made, if there is enough will and determination on both sides. In my meeting at the committee of missing persons I got the feeling that a spirit of reconciliation is gaining ground. I learnt that the wives of both leaders have relatives among the missing persons. They can understand the sorrow and pain of each other. This empathy may contribute to overcoming the shadows of the past. It is time for reconciliation. Without reconciliation, no future is possible.
My message to you is simple: the EU is deeply convinced that the Cyprus problem can be solved and must be solved. How the solution will look like is for the parties to decide. However, that a solution must be found, is something the EU clearly expects from Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots and from any other party involved, particularly Turkey. In other words: When we say that the settlement process is Cyprus driven, we mean that it is for the parties to decide on the content of the settlement. However, this should not be misinterpreted in such a way that the parties may decide not to solve the issue. The status quo, the state of non-solution, is not acceptable; it can not be an option. A united Cyprus is in the interest of Cyprus in the first place; but it is equally in the interest of the European Union for which a divided Member State continues to be an open wound that needs to be healed.
Therefore the European Commission is strongly supporting the settlement process politically and technically. President Barroso has appointed Leopold Maurer (who is with us tonight) to be his personal representative to the talks, integrated in the Good Offices Mission of the United Nations. We provide technical expertise when ever needed.
Once the deal is sealed, the EU is committed to accommodating the settlement in line with the European Union's founding principles: liberty, democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. A bi-zonal, bi-communal federation which the leaders are aiming at is certainly compatible with membership in the European Union. It must be ensured that the united Cyprus will be able to speak with one voice and transpose and implement the body of EU law, the "acquis".
Going one step further, I would like to give you tonight the strong assurance that the EU will also help to implement a settlement once Cyprus is united. Member States have shown solidarity as the EU has made already 259 M€ available to help the Turkish Cypriots prepare for reunification and more funds are in the pipeline. We are funding a number of confidence building measures, many in close co-operation with the United Nations, for instance de-mining activities, preparing for the opening of new crossing points at the Green Line, joint activities of NGOs from both communities fostering reconciliation and support for the work of the Committee on Missing Persons. The European Commission this week adopted a decision for another € 3 M for the invaluable work of this Committee and the European Parliament’s Budget Committee has voted an amendment some two weeks ago for further funding under the 2011 budget.
I have no doubt that the EU will also mobilise all resources available to make reunification sustainable for both communities. Cyprus will then be in a position to fully enjoy all benefits of EU Membership throughout the island. Turkish Cypriots will enjoy the full rights of EU citizens; they have this status, in principle, already now, but they will only fully benefit from it after a settlement. EU funding will help to narrow welfare gaps within the island.
A Cyprus settlement will give a very welcome boost to the economy to help recover from the global financial crisis. The whole island will be part of the EU's internal market which is an important incentive for economic growth. The importance of Cyprus as a whole in the EU will increase.
During his last year's visit to Cyprus President Barroso recalled the underlying rationale for the founding of the European Economic Community more than 50 years ago. It was not just the wish to achieve more economic prosperity; it was the deep desire to achieve reconciliation and lasting peace on the continent. I would like to add a reference to what happened in Europe after 1989: Until the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 the unification of Germany and indeed Europe as a whole was almost unthinkable. And yet it happened because there were enough courageous and farsighted people fighting for it, even if they had to take personal risks. The former Czech President Vaclav Havel was one of those.
Against this background, one question comes to mind when looking at the situation in Cyprus. If it was possible to achieve the almost unthinkable, to unite Germany and Europe as a whole against so many obstacles 20 years ago, why shouldn't it be possible to settle the Cyprus problem once and for all and unite the island now?
I am aware that a Cyprus settlement is not possible without a constructive attitude from Turkey. I have used every opportunity to pass this message to the political leaders in Turkey together with the message that the EU expects Turkey to fully implement the additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement. The Turkish Government is well aware that a solution will give a boost to Turkey's own accession process. Supporting a settlement is therefore in Turkey's own interest for many reasons. It would, however, be a miscalculation to think that blocking the accession process with Turkey will increase the chances for a settlement.
Recent rulings of European Courts on property cases in Luxembourg and Strasbourg demonstrate that the status quo is no longer sustainable. I am happy that both leaders agree that a solution to the Cyprus issue can only be found at the negotiation table and not in a court room. This is encouraging but the clock is ticking. The more time goes by the more difficult it will be to solve the Cyprus issue, and the higher the cost of a non-solution gets. I am convinced that both communities and you as party leaders in these communities are fully aware of this.
Therefore I call on you as elected representatives to support the leader of your respective community to reach a comprehensive settlement. I know that you as political party leaders participate in consultative bodies advising your leaders. This is a great responsibility going well beyond political orientations. A settlement will mean that both communities will join in making compromises.
The political parties can also largely contribute to creating the right climate for a settlement in the broader society, to prepare people for the future united Cyprus. This is crucial as the leaders have already decided that any settlement needs to be approved by the people in two separate simultaneous referenda.
When I will return tomorrow morning to Brussels I will leave the island with a mixed feeling. On the one hand I clearly feel the wish in both communities to reach a settlement and note the awareness that this is beneficial for everybody. On the other hand I see a certain hesitation to start the final sprint towards the future in a united Cyprus. I know that this requires mutual trust as you are building it up in such a bi-communal forum. Six years after Cyprus’ accession to the EU it is about time for a final push in the settlement process. You have a rendez-vous with history. Let's meet it together and let me assure that the EU is there to help.
A united Cyprus in the European Union will secure a more peaceful, more prosperous future for your children and grandchildren. It will be an example for the power of the European peace model. The European Union is at your side, or, as President Barroso put it last year when in Cyprus: "You will not walk alone".