A fierce row has broken out between ruling DISY MEP Eleni Theocharous and Greek vice-president and foreign minister Evangelos Venizelos over a document submitted by Turkey on June 23 that described Cyprus as a “defunct” state.
President Nicos Anastasiades urged caution on Monday, as the row devolved into a shouting match with personal slights and calls for sacking.
During last Wednesday’s session at the European Parliament (EP), Theocharous directed a question at the EP’s president Martin Schulz and Greek prime minister Antonis Samaras relating to a document submitted to Venizelos by Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu during the EU Council’s Greek presidency, which ended on June 30.
The document included a reference that alluded to Turkey’s denial to recognise the Republic of Cyprus as a legitimate state, describing it as “defunct.”
“During the Greek presidency, the Turkish foreign minister handed foreign minister Venizelos a 64-page document in which the Republic of Cyprus, an EU-member state, no longer exists and is ‘clinically dead’,” Theocharous premised. “What form did the expression of solidarity on the EU’s part take, towards a member state that is considered ‘clinically dead’ by a state that aspires to become a member? And how did the Greek Presidency react when Turkey, in blatant disregard of every concept of justice, asked that Cypriot passports note ‘Greek-Cypriot administration’ in order to qualify for entry to Turkey?”
The question infuriated Venizelos as it landed squarely in the foreign ministry’s remit. The Greek foreign minister issued a note verbale, a diplomatic tool of protest, to the Cyprus government, asking his counterpart Ioannis Kasoulides to stand behind his handling of the matter, which Kasoulides duly did.
“During the EU-Turkey association council on June 23 in Luxembourg, the Greek presidency, and especially Greek foreign minister Evangelos Venizelos who chaired the meeting, handled the Turkish provocations against Cyprus in a most satisfactory manner,” a statement by the Cypriot foreign ministry said on Friday.
On Sunday morning, President Anastasiades sought to put out the fire, saying that there are no rifts between the Greek and Cypriot governments and calling for restraint.
“Relations between Cyprus and the motherland are impeccable,” Anastasiades said, calling on everyone to “resist any temptations that may infect a traditionally supportive relationship.”
Anastasiades’ statement was also interpreted as the government clearly siding with Venizelos in the dispute.
But the Greek foreign minister was still not happy. Later on Sunday, he launched an all-out attack on Theocharous, though he refrained from naming her.
“It is sad that the same so-called ‘patriotic’ circles, who try to trade national sensitivities politically or journalistically, pretend not to realise that there is no differentiation between Greece and Cyprus,” he said in a statement. “On the contrary, the foreign ministries of Greece and Cyprus, always in close cooperation and full deference, were forced to restore truth and order due to the irresponsibility with which one MEP attempted to alter reality before the European Parliament’s plenum.”
Venizelos characterised Theocharous’ behaviour as “irresponsible petty politicking” and “personal demagoguery for the sake of short-lived publicity.”
The diplomatic faux-pas did not end there. Speaking on Sigma TV on Sunday night, Theocharous had her own name-calling bout, with “nonsense, verbalism and irresponsibility” being just some of the epithets she used to describe Venizelos’ tirade. In the end, she called for Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras to “sack or remove” him.
“In the name of cooperation between the Cyprus and Greek governments, Venizelos had the audacity to produce this abomination,” she said of the Greek VP’s scathing statement. “He has elevated an issue of his own political mishandling into one of Cyprus-Greece relations.”
“This is becoming an issue for Mr Samaras, as well, who needs to fire him.”
Theocharous also said that Venizelos’ attack towards her will be brought before the European Parliament, so that the issue of whether an MEP can be subjected to this treatment is discussed.
“He issued a note verbale for a right I duly exercised in the European Parliament,” she said. “The parliament’s authorities are going to hear about this.”
“I am not subject to Mr Venizelos’ approval,” she added. “I answer to the Cypriot people, whom I have been elected to represent, and I asked a question that has yet to be answered.”
In light of the persistent row threatening to blow up into a diplomatic crisis, Anastasiades was forced to revisit the issue more decisively on Monday.
“I would like to clarify once and for all that the incidents of the last few hours, which have created the false impression of a possible rift between the Greek and Cypriot governments, that our relations are beyond excellent, and that our communication with both Prime Minister Samaras and Foreign minister Venizelos is daily and in full cooperation,” he said.
“Therefore, no one is permitted to challenge or cast doubts on our cooperation and excellent relations, nor the support we receive from the Greek government, even in the slightest.”
Greek ambassador to Cyprus Vasilios Papaioannou echoed Anastasiades’ view.
“Relations are very good,” he told state radio. “Cooperation is flawless and there is no rift. We are fighting in the same trenches. This matter is closed, and we now need to focus on the national issue.”