Johannes Hahn - Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations
European Parliament Plenary Debate
President, distinguished Members of the European Parliament.
I have followed closely the latest events in the exclusive economic zone of Cyprus and their implications for the region more widely.
We are fully aware of your concerns, not the least through the letters and parliamentary questions on this issue received from several of you. I know that Gianni Pitella visited Turkey at the end of October and raised this issue with his Turkish interlocutors.
The first thing I want to underline today is that the EU's position on this is very clear. It has been set out in past Council conclusions; in the Commission's latest Enlargement Progress Report for Turkey; and most recently by the European Council in October.
Still, it is important to repeat this position: the EU stands firmly by the sovereign rights of its Member States to enter into bilateral agreements and to explore and exploit their natural resources, when in line with the EU acquis and international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. Let me underline that the EU urges the avoidance of any kind of threat, source of friction or provocative action that could damage good neighbourly relations and the peaceful settlement of disputes.
So what do we need to do now? We expect Turkey to respect Cyprus’s sovereign rights over its Exclusive Economic Zone; to show restraint; and to avoid any more statements or actions that could cause more friction. It is very important that tension is decreased to the benefit of all parties.
At the same time, we hope that the exploration and eventual exploitation of Cyprus's natural resources can continue and the benefits can be shared by all Cypriots.
But what our discussion today shows most of all is the need for a rapid, comprehensive settlement on Cyprus between the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. In fact, in my opinion, that need has never been more pressing.
Let me take this opportunity to encourage strongly all relevant stakeholders to contribute to a positive climate conducive to a Cyprus settlement to the benefit of all. Because the division has gone on for too long. And because a settlement would open up the fullest range of options for exploiting hydrocarbon resources, in the most economically advantageous way, and for the benefit of all Cypriots.
The leaders of the two Cypriot communities showed courage and vision in agreeing their Joint Declaration of 11 February to re-launch settlement talks. In September, they committed to accelerating the pace of the talks.
So now I urge both community leaders to find a way back to the negotiating table and to resume substantial, structured negotiations at the earliest opportunity, paving the way to a fair, comprehensive and viable Cyprus settlement to the benefit of all.
The UN is urging this too. We have a strong political figure in Mr Barth Eide, the UN Special Adviser on Cyprus, who is ready to help the parties bridge differences, get back into negotiations, and make real progress. The EU supports his work strongly.
Let me say a word about Turkey more generally too. As a country with a stated European perspective, Turkey must respect the highest possible democratic standards and practices without reservation. We will hold it properly to account on these. And to do just that, we need to have an even closer and deeper relationship with Turkey. This is one of the key plans for me as Commissioner.
But this also means developing the relationship more widely. More foreign policy dialogue and cooperation to act more closely together on the great shared challenges in our region. A closer and more productive economic relationship for the benefit of our citizens, especially through the deepening of our Customs Union. And further progress on the issues of visa and migration. I want to do more to develop a robust EU relationship with Turkey, in our interests and to our mutual benefit.
President, distinguished members of the European Parliament.
Let me assure you again that this issue is high on my agenda, that I am following it closely, and that I understand your concerns.
Today in Ankara, the EEAS and Commission's most senior official level political dialogue with Turkey is taking place. This issue is firmly on the agenda as there is a sense of urgency in helping to make progress on a Cyprus settlement. I am in contact with the Turkish Government to discuss how we can make meaningful progress across the whole of our relationship.
President and distinguished Members, thank you for your attention, and I look forward to hearing your views.