Tuesday, 6 February 1996
Dáil Éireann Debate
20. Mr. Hilliard asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs the nature and extent of his discussions, and the proposed actions or measures which may be put in place, following his recent visit to Cyprus, as part of the EU Troika; the implications, if any, these proposals may have for Ireland; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [2371/96]
Mr. Spring: My official visit to Cyprus on 9-11 January was part of my preparations for the Irish Presidency of the European Union in the second half of this year, though the visit was bilateral and not part of an EU Troika mission. The development of the Union's relations with Cyprus in the perspective of the opening of EU accession negotiations six months after the conclusion of the Intergovernmental Conference will be an important issue during our  term of office. As Presidency, we will lead the Union's structured dialogue with Cyprus which has been established to prepare the ground for the accession negotiations.
My visit enabled me to familiarise myself at first hand with the situation on the island and the views and concerns of the Cypriot people. I had discussions with President Clerides, Foreign Minister Michaelides, the UN Secretary-General's Deputy Special Representative in Cyprus, Mr. Gustave Feissel, and the leaders of the Turkish Cypriot community, including Mr. Denktash. I was also pleased to be able to visit the Irish Army contingent serving with the United Nations Force in Cyprus and the Garda personnel attached to the UN Civil Police operation at Pyla. Except for a brief period in the 1970s, Irish personnel have served continuously with the UN in Cyprus since 1964. Their contribution to the security and welfare of the people of Cyprus is warmly appreciated on the island. It was clear from the many tributes paid to their professionalism and impartiality during my visit that they enjoy the full respect and confidence of both communities.
The prospect of EU membership has introduced a new dimension to the Cyprus question. In all my discussions, I stressed the importance of using the window of opportunity which the accession process offers to facilitiate the efforts of the UN Secretary-General to make progress towards a political settlement on the island. I highlighted the potential of the EU, a community of democratic states based on the principle of unity in diversity, as a framework for accommodating different identities. Membership of the Union could help to resuscitate the relationship between the two communities in a broader framework and to reinforce the existing guarantees of their position. I indicated my willingness to assist the search for progress in support of the UN process and the EU pre-accession strategy for Cyprus and to share any aspects of our national experience which might be  seen by the parties as relevant or helpful. While not drawing parallels between different situations, I explained the importance we attach from our own experience in relation to Northern Ireland to parity of esteem for each community and the need to reflect this principle in appropriate political structures.
Like our EU partners, we are concerned to ensure that the prospect of accession should be seen to benefit both communities on the island and that the accession process is pursued in a way that facilitates the search for a political solution. The priority which the Union is giving to the issue is reflected in the appointment at last week's General Affairs Council of a Presidency representative for Cyprus, Ambassador Di Roberto, who will visit the region. The Council will consider how the Union's approach on Cyprus might be further developed when the representative's report and recommendations are available. Our approach as Presidency will be developed in the light of the outcome of that discussion in the Council.
Mr. R. Burke: As the framework for negotiation on the accession of Cyprus to the EU has been agreed, will the Tánaiste comment on the view of some EU member states, apparently led by Britain, that Cyprus should be excluded from the EU as long as its problems remain unresolved?
Mr. Spring: There are different views within the European Union. The Irish Government has adopted the view that we have had long and friendly relations with Cyprus and its people, we warmly welcome the Cypriot application for membership and we supported a Council decision to fix a date for the opening of negotiations. As well as the importance of Cyprus joining the Union, we hope that the historic opportunity — I believe that is what it will be — offered by the prospect of accession can be used constructively to facilitate progress towards a political settlement on the island of Cyprus.
Mr. R. Burke: Will the Tánaiste comment on the views of some EU member states, in particular those led by the UK, that Cyprus should be excluded from the Union? Despite the fact that dates have been set and a framework for the mandate on accession talks has been agreed, will he comment on the point of those discussions if a blocking group led by Britain opposes the accession of Cyprus to the Union while its problems remain unresolved?
Mr. Spring: The date for accession negotiations has been set as a result of an agreement reached by European Union member states. Accession negotiations will commence six months within the completion of the Intergovernmental Conference. That is what is important. Member states of the Europen Union, the United Nations and the United States, working together, should use the period up to the commencement of those accessional negotiations to ascertain whether those communities can resolve their differences. My discussions in Cyprus with the various leaders left me with the impression that there is a very strong feeling that, if they do not seriously endeavour to resolve their problems within the window of opportunity accession offers, it will be very difficult to do so thereafter. The decision of the European Union Council of Ministers that those accessional negotiations would commence after the Intergovernmental Conference provide a catalyst for such resolution. It behoves both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, with the co-operation of Greece and Turkey, to work together since this presents them with the best opportunity they will have for a long time.
Mr. R. Burke: Leaving aside the Cyprus issue, is the Tánaiste concerned that the dispute between Greece and Turkey last week will affect the Cyprus resolution? Would he agree it is crucial that the efforts of the United Nations, United States and the European Union  be co-ordinated within this window of opportunity?
Mr. Spring: I might make two points. First, co-ordination is exactly what is needed between the European Union, the United Nations — which has had a long involvement in Cyprus — and the United States because of the linkage between the Cypriot problem, Turkey-Greece relations and overall security in that region which involves the United States as well as the European Union and the United Nations. In my last contribution to the General Affairs Council at which this matter was discussed I said we must have co-ordination rather than competition because it would be disastrous were there to be any competition between the United States and the European Union on this issue. I welcome reports that recent tensions between the two countries over their territorial limits in the Aegean Sea appear to have been defused. I hope that good relations can be fostered between Greece and Turkey, a reconciliation long overdue. From discussions with my Greek colleagues in recent weeks I detect a certain willingness to come forward, but in this respect the formation of a new Government in Ankara will be important.
Mr. Deasy: I presume the Tánaiste is referring to the whole island of Cyprus gaining accession to the European Union. Will he inform the House whether the Turks have been reasonable with regard to that part of the island of Cyprus occupied by the Turkish Army? Its application for membership of the European Union has been on the back burner for a number of years. Will he say whether that application for membership will remain on the back burner as long as Turkey impedes any settlement in Cyprus?
Mr. Spring: In 1989 the European Commission made available its opinion on the Turkish application for membership, which was to the effect that it would not be useful to open accessional  negotiations straight away. The Commission also took the view that a range of steps should be taken to intensify European Union-Turkish relations. The Deputy will be aware that the customs union which came into effect at the end of last year constituted a major step forward in European Union-Turkish relations. When a new Government is formed in Ankara I hope intensive discussions will take place between the European Union and that new administration with a view to ensuring full development of the customs union which can lead to other things. If I may borrow an expression from Anglo-Irish relations, the “totality of relations” between the Greek Cypriots, the Turkish Cypriots, Greece and Turkey must be taken into account, all working together for the same objective.
Mr. R. Burke: Negotiations have been continuing in parallel in regard to the accession of Cyprus and Malta to the European Union. Since the Tánaiste will be engaging in those accessional discussions, has he been given a mandate in relation to the right of both countries to have a Commissioner appointed?
Mr. R. Burke: I mean the appointment of a Commissioner from both Malta and Cyprus to the European Union, just as other countries have Commissioners. Within the frame work discussions will Cyprus and Malta have the right to appoint a Commissioner to the European Union?
Mr. Spring: No, after its completion.  The Intergovernmental Conference, in terms of institutional reform, may well have a bearing on the entitlement of various countries to make such appointments.
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