Cyprus was a matter for debate in the House of Lords this week, with Lord Sharkey raising a question on the likelihood of reunification.
Lord Sharkey noted that the Cyprus dispute was now over 40 years old, with many serious attempts to bring about a resolution. However he felt that the likelihood of reunification seemed remote and the issues appeared quite intractable. He blamed the political machinery of the island as the prime, if not sole factor, for failure to resolve the problem, and questioned whether there was any point repeating the same processes albeit with different participants and still hope for a different outcome.
This debate comes at a time when the UN is documenting the Cyprus agreements and disputes to date, in preparation for further negotiations once the South Cyprus presidential election has taken place in February next year, as previously reported.
Sharkey said it was fairly obvious why a resolution seemed far off. The UN earlier this year admitted that talks were in deadlock and no immediate way forward was visible. Further, the Republic of Cyprus’s presidency of the EU would clearly have a negative impact on talks.
Research conducted this July showed that more than 70% of both communities now felt that they should assert their own rights even if that negatively affected members of the other community, highlighting an unwillingness to compromise.
Sharkey mentioned too, that the younger generations on both sides of the island had never interacted with each other and could see no need to do so. They had no investment in the property issue and might not want to face the vagaries and potential problems resulting from a solution that neither side subscribed to.
He then referred to the weak economic situation which affects both sides. Both the North and South rely on external economic aid, however, the fundamental wealth and prospects of both sides differed widely and added to the lack of political will for unification.
Lord Sharkey noted that both sides were in fact separate states and questioned whether the legal status of the states really mattered. He felt that it mattered very much to all Cypriots, to people in the eastern Mediterranean and indeed to Britain, particularly with the recent lack of stability across the eastern Mediterranean.
Furthermore, the discovery of huge gas fields in Cypriot water has raised questions about territorial boundaries and rights to develop natural resources. These unresolved questions were likely to greatly add to current tensions. He added that a senior energy industry executive has predicted that this would prevent exploitation of the gas fields, which would be a tragedy in his view.
On the positive side he stated that the gas fields provided the potential to develop the economy of the island and had given ‘fresh energy’ to
those seeking resolution. In September, UN Special Advisor, Alexander Downer said that both Greeks and Turks now had a strong economic incentive to agree to a reunification. It would also clear up issues of sovereignty, property investment, grow GDP and enhance the ability to service and repay debts.
There was also discussion on the lack of support offered by the UK government for North Cyprus. Baroness Knight of Collingtree, Chairman of the all-party group for Northern Cyprus brief debate said that for years, Northern Cyprus had been treated unfairly, and even spitefully, by Greek Cypriots. Further, considering that Britain is a guarantor, she believed that the UK had failed in its duty to the North to get things right. These people really do not deserve to bear the suffering and hardship that is inflicted on them and many onlookers have seen it for themselves.
Lord Harrison noted that the EU was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for providing peace across Europe for the last 70 years. However, he felt that they failed by including Cyprus in the Union when peace had not been secured there. He expressed a growing sympathy for North Cyprus since it had agreed to the Annan Plan and that the South had not.
Baroness Hussein-Ece, Secretary of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Cyprus, noted that the Cyprus problem had been running for decades and acknowledged that all parties involved had suffered loss and injury. Hussain-Ece, who recently received an honorary doctorate for her contribution towards the Cyprus peace process, expressed her disappointment at the failure of the Annan Peace Plan in 2004 and the resounding results of the subsequent referendum showing that Greeks were overwhelmingly against the Plan and the Turks were overwhelmingly in favour of it.
She felt that recent efforts made by the UN towards Cypriot-led talks had failed, serving only to retrench the divisions between both sides. The Baroness also believed that the UK, as a guarantor power, had a responsibility to be more proactive and act as an honest broker. This sentiment was echoed by Lord Maginnis who suggested that successive UK governments had delegated their authority to the UN, the US and the EU and referred to Ministers’ “political impotence”.
In conclusion, Baroness Warsi said “… we must not forget the past and should acknowledge the pain suffered by the ordinary people of Cyprus, but we must also look to the future and continue to have faith in the UN-led settlement process. We must look to the leaders of the two communities, who ultimately are responsible for working together to deliver a package that the Cypriot people can believe in and which will secure the future for the reunited island, so that her people can live together in peace”.