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No Turkish accession before agreement on Cyprus, says UK Foreign Minister

13 February, 2013

The position of the Conservative party that Turkey cannot enter the EU as long as the occupation of the northern part of Cyprus continues, as it had been stated by William Hague before the 2010 election, has not changed, asserted David Lidington during a Tuesday evening gathering of Cypriots in London.

Prompted by the audience, the Minister of State at the Foreign Office said that every decision for membership has to be taken unanimously. As a result of that, he concluded that he could not see how it would be feasible for Turkey to complete its accession process unless there had been an agreement over the future of Cyprus. “Moreover,” he added “a standard part of the requirements of a candidate country is to show that it has good neighbourly relations.”

In his address at the Greek Cypriot Brotherhood in north London the British Minister for Europe said that the UK government shall look forward to building the closest possible relationship with the new President of Cyprus, whichever candidate gets elected.

He expressed his hope that the new president will commit himself energetically “to seeking ways into moving forward towards a final agreement.” At the same time London shall also continue in every opportunity to urge Turkish officials to undertake such a commitment “in words and in deeds.”

Mr Lidington repeated that the position of his government is that a solution should be based on the framework of a bizonal, bicommunal federation in Cyprus, with equal rights for all communities, in compliance with all relative UN resolutions. Answering a question from the audience he acknowledged that there is a debate and negotiation on what ‘bizonal’ means in practice. “It should be something that both leaders feel they are able to ‘sell’ to their communities in the context of an overall settlement which will be transparently in the interest of all communities,” elaborated the British Minister for Europe.

Touching upon Britain’s role in the negotiations over Cyprus Mr Lidington said that he didn’t think it could simply ride in and say it has the answer. “The lesson that came out of the failure of the Annan plan is surely that unless all communities in Cyprus feel that they have ownership of the final settlement, then it is unlikely to be an arrangement that is going to hold for the future.” In order to avoid such an outcome, the UK shall continue to give very firm support to the Cypriot-led process, concluded the minister.

In response to a member of audience’s question, he noted that what Britain can do is talk to friends and colleagues about how they may approach the settlement. In the same response he said that it’s in Turkish interests too that an answer is found. “The isolation and economic underdevelopment of the Turkish Cypriot community is a reality and it needs to be addressed; and I think that achieving the full settlement is the best way of ending that isolation.”

His reference to “isolation” caused the objection of members of the gathered audience, but the minister insisted, pointing to the indicators of economic development in the occupied part of Cyprus and the suspension of the EU acquis. David Lidington added that “we do need to see movement on the additional Ankara protocol, an issue raised with the Turkish authorities, but it is no secret the British government supports the accession of Turkey to the EU and wants to see progress on the opening of other chapters.” He suggested that the more Turkey sees that as an attainable objective, the more Turkish leaders and people will find it attractive to focus on what is needed to negotiate a Cyprus settlement.

Mr Lidington wished to recognise the Republic of Cyprus government’s “dedicated and skilful” discharge of the presidency of the European Council, of which the country can be “greatly proud.” He specifically praised Mr Andreas Mavrogiannis, Deputy Minister to the President for European Affairs who coordinated the Cyprus presidency. Mr Lidington reminded that during that time many of the building blocks of the recent agreement on the EU budget were put in place.

The Minister for Europe said that even though the UK does not want to join the eurozone it wants Cyprus and its partners to succeed in creating a stable currency union with prosperity and growth. He also stressed the need for further development of the single market, as “the next generation of Europeans will not be able to afford the living standards or the social protection that our generation has come to take for granted”, and he mentioned London’s “resolute” support for the right of Cyprus to develop resources within its exclusive economic zone offshore.

Regarding the obligation of Turkey to comply with judgements of the Court of Human Rights on the work of the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus he said it is a matter of humanitarian concern. “All families, regardless of which community they belong, deserve to know the truth,” stressed the minister.

The meeting was organised by north London’s Conservative MPs Theresa Villiers (Secretary of State for Northern Ireland), Mike Freer and Matthew Offord.