Liberal Democrat peer Lord Sharkey, Chairman of the UK's All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, challenged the UK government 's knowledge of everyday economic reality in the KKTC last week (16/10/2013) when he put a question in the House of Lords to Baroness Warsi, Senior Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
Lord Sharkey asked Baroness Warsi "what assessment Her Majesty's government have made of the exclusion of those living in northern Cyprus from the benefits of that island's membership of the European Union ". The 1960 Treaty of Independence appoints the UK a Guarantor of the interests of both the Turkish and Greek communities on the island.
Answering for the government, Baroness Warsi said: " We endorse the European Council conclusions of 2004 by which the Council undertook to end the isolation of the Turkish Cypriot Community, including through much-needed assistance programmes. The best way for all Cypriots to enjoy the benefits of EU membership would be through a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem. We continue to support the leaders of both communities in their efforts to achieve this, and we hope that the UN-led negotiations will restart and succeed in the near future,"
2004 was the year that Turkish Cypriots were encouraged to vote for the UN's Annan Plan solution to the island's division, with a promise that trade and other embargoes would be lifted if they did so. Although Turkish Cypriots overwhelmingly voted for Annan, those embargoes have never been lifted.
Lord Sharkey then drilled down with a second question about how the UK government could give practical help,in advance of any comprehensive settlement :"My noble friend will know that meat and dairy products are the economic mainstay of northern Cyprus, but they are banned from the EU simply because there is no recognised body in northern Cyprus to certify them as safe, although they are safe. Will the government look at arranging some form of bilateral certification arrangement that would allow such products to be sold in the UK?"
Baroness Warsi replied:: "I cannot comment on my noble friend's specific request, athough if there is any ongoing work in the area of food, I will certainly write to him. As he will be aware, many of the rights and obligations that came with the membership of the EU do not apply in the north of the island, but the EU has been working with representatives from the north to make sure that programmes are put in place for eventual reunification and membership of the EU."
Lord Hannay (the UK's Special Representative for Cyprus to the UN, 1996-2003) then asked about the number of Turkish Cypriots working in Brussels:"Can the noble Baroness tell us how many Turkish Cypriots are members of the European Institutions - the Commission, the Parliament, and so on? If, as I suspect, the answer is zero, does she not agree that it is odd that people who are regarded as citizens of the European Union cannot be recruited to its institutions? "
Baroness Warsi replied: "The noble lord is aware of the ongoing challenges in the area. I presume that he is correct, but that if he is not, I am sure that I will write to him with details of how many citizens from the north of the country are members of European Union institutions.
"I come back to the basic point in this matter.The way to resolve these issues in the long run us by achieving a settlement.There is some hope of that..As noble Lords will recall , the current President, Nicos Anastasiades, was one of the few politicians (Ed :in the south ) who was supportive of the Annan plan during the 2004 referendum. There is therefore some hope that negotiations will resume and will proceed in a positive way."
But Baroness Meral Ece was not satisfied: "My Lords, perhaps I may press my noble friend a little further on this. If, as she says, the United Kingdom as a guarantor power has a legal responsibility to recognise and support the Turkish Cypriot Community, why does it appear that the EU border seems to end at the Green Line, so that 300,000 Turkish Cypriots are denied any fundamental rights under the European Union?"
Baroness Warsi replied:" My noble friend is a real expert on these issues,so I shall not seek to question her assertions, but she will be aware that the European Commission directly implements aid programmes in the north of the country. These social, economic and development programmes are specifically for the Turkish Cypriot Community.. She will also be aware that if Turkish Cypriots take Republic of Cyprus passports, they can access some of the wider benefits that come with EU membership".
Fevzi Hussein, recently re-elected as chair of Embargoed!, a pressure group dedicated to lifting the embargoes suffered by the TRNC, comments "The UK, as one of the guarantors of Cyprus, must be seen to be doing more to help Turkish Cypriots caught up in decades of embargoes. I welcome and thank those peers who posed the questions which show they have ALL Cypriot interests at heart. Sadly, Baroness Warsi's answers demonstrate the non-commital manner in which this government views the Cyprus Problem. The bottom line is, there is geo-political instability in the Easter Mediterranean, there is an economic crisis in the South of Cyprus and on top of all of this there is reportedly an abundance of natural resources in the sea which ALL Cypriots must benefit from. This is a cocktail of nuances which could pave he way for cautious optimism but our government here has to open its eyes and smell the coffee."