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‘EU is turning a blind eye’ over Cyprus

Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations, Johannes Hahn, said the EU stood by the rights of its member states and urged the avoidance of “any kind of threat or provocation”.

By Jean Christou

THE EU was heavily criticised by MEPs at the European Parliament (EP) plenary last night during a debate on ‘Turkish actions creating tensions in the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of Cyprus’ ahead of a resolution vote later today, demanding Turkey immediately cease and desist from its actions within the island’s EEZ.

The session on Cyprus was kicked off with a statement from Austria’s Johannes Hahn, Vice-President of the Commission/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy who said the events in the island’s EEZ were being closely followed in Brussels and also in terms of the implications for the region.

Hahn told MEPs the Commission was fully aware of their concerns and that Brussels’ position on the Cyprus-Turkey relationship was clear and had been set out in past conclusions and progress reports.

“Still it is important to repeat this position,” he said. Hahn said the EU stood by the rights of its member states and urged the avoidance of “any kind of threat or provocation”.

“We expect Turkey to respect Cyprus’ sovereign rights over its EEZ,” Hahn said. “It is very important tension is decreased.” He also said the Commission hoped the exploration and exploitation of Cyprus’ natural resources could benefit both communities. “There is a need for a rapid comprehensive settlement on Cyprus and in my opinion the need has never been more pressing. The division has gone on for far too long.”

He urged both leaders to return to the negotiating table but said that Turkey with “a stated European perspective” must respect the standards of that perspective. “We will hold it to account on this,” he added.

But Hahn’s comments did little to appease the gaggle of MEPs, Cypriots, Greeks and others, who lined up one after the other to condemn Turkey during their minute-long slots.

“Turkey has to respect the rules,” said Italian MEP Marco Affronte. “Otherwise Cyprus will not feel protected by Europe”. Several MEPs called for a “robust” answer to Turkey questioning how long the EU was going to allow Ankara to do whatever it wanted, even in violation of international law and the acquis to which it aspires as a candidate country.

“It’s a disgrace that the EU is turning a blind eye and ignoring a country that is occupied,” added Greek MEP Eleftherios Synadinos. “It is time for us to stand up.”

British MEP Charles Tannock said Turkey’s actions were regrettable. “It was inevitable that the Greek Cypriots would pull out of the talks,” he said, adding that he rejected the position of Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots as far as their hydrocarbons were concerned.

A lone compatriot of Tannock’s, Geoffrey van Orden, was the only MEP to stick up for Turkey, slamming the draft resolution as unfair and one-sided by placing the blame on Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots. “Both sides undoubtedly bear responsibility for the current situation,” he said. Van Orden also had a go at the EU.

He said for the cause of the recent situation it should look back to 2004 when the Commission pledged to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriots only to turn around a month later and see it blocked. “If this promise had been kept, none of the difficulties we see today would be happening,” he said.

“Do your homework,” responded AKEL MEP Takis Hadjigeorgiou.

“This is all a one-sided criticism,” van Orden shot back. “If we want to make progress a solution should respect the interests and concerns of both communities.”

The debate ended with Hahn welcoming the comments from MEPs and promising to convey their views to Turkey.

The resolution was submitted by seven parliamentary groups from various European political parties including AKEL members Neoclis Sylikiotis and Takis Hadjigeorgiou.

The EP draft resolution makes it clear that Cyprus has full and sovereign right to explore the natural resources within its EEZ, and that “the Turkish maritime surveys must be seen as both illegal and provocative”. It demands that Turkish vessels operating in waters in and around the EEZ of Cyprus “be withdrawn immediately”.

The resolution also urges Turkey to show restraint and act in accordance with international law. It deplored the escalation of threats and unilateral action by Turkey and calls on Ankara to respect and comply with its EU accession obligation to recognise Cyprus as a member state.

Turkey should also sign and ratify “without further delay”, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which is part of the acquis communautaire.

The continuation and/or repetition of Turkey’s actions could have a negative impact on Ankara’s relations with the EU, including its accession process, it adds.

It also states that the sovereign rights of the member states include the right to enter into bilateral agreements and the right to explore and exploit their natural resources in accordance with UNCLOS.

The EP shares the UN’s view that any gas finds would benefit both communities in Cyprus if a lasting, political solution could be found to end the conflict and if properly managed, the discovery of significant hydrocarbon reserves in the region could improve economic, political and social relations between the two communities.

Turkey should also refrain from making threats against the Republic of Cyprus as they undermine the negotiations, and also stability “in this very sensitive region”.

Under the resolution, the EP would ask the European External Action Service and the Commission to closely follow Turkey’s activities within the EEZ of the Republic of Cyprus and report back to Parliament.

“The EU has frequently reiterated that Turkey needs to commit itself unequivocally to good neighbourly relations and to the peaceful settlement of disputes in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations,” the draft resolution says. “Turkey’s claims and actions have no legal foundation and are in direct conflict with international law.”

EP political groups have submitted amendments to the text of the draft resolution that will also be tabled for approval before the plenary later today.

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