The Cyprus Problem – high expectations of French Presidency

The French EU-Presidency’s priorities, as elaborated by French President Nicolas Sarkozy[1] and by the French ambassador in Nicosia Nicolas Galey,[2] were well received in Nicosia, which on various occasions has reaffirmed its commitment to co-operate with France to guarantee their success.
 
Besides Paris’ priorities to chart a common immigration policy, enhance the European defence policy, promote renewable energy resources, reform the Common Agricultural Policy and involve civil society in EU affairs, Nicosia is also concerned as regards France’s position towards Turkey’s accession to the EU and the European Union’s involvement in the negotiation process for the resolution of the Cyprus problem.[3]
 
The Cyprus Problem
 
Concerning Turkey’s accession prospects, Cyprus expects France to urge Ankara to fulfil all of its obligations towards the EU including the implementation of the Ankara Protocol[4] as well as all the commitments outlined during the negotiation of all 35 accession chapters.[5] Nicosia also expects Paris to be extremely cautious during the opening of the energy chapter in Turkey’s accession bid. This chapter was ’informally’ blocked by Cyprus during the Tassos Papadopoulos presidency in Cyprus, due to threats expressed by Turkey against Cyprus on its signing of bilateral agreements – with neighbouring countries such as Egypt – for the search and extraction of oil and natural gas off the coast of Cyprus. After all, such energy agreements have proven to be in line with the policy priorities of the newly established Union for the Mediterranean.
 
The French Presidency’s contribution to the ongoing discussions of the Cyprus problem was explained by President Demetris Christofias who, during his meeting with French Prime Minister François Fillon in Nicosia in early May, asked France to encourage Turkey to adopt a positive stance on the Cyprus problem.[6] As Cypriot diplomats explained, the input of any EU presidency in the settlement of the Cyprus problem will be greatly appreciated, beyond the Cypriot people, by the Cypriot authorities themselves: for, inter alia, they would need some technical guidance on the incorporation of the acquis communautaire in any agreed solution.[7]
 
Renewable energies
 
Another issue in the limelight of discussions in Cyprus is the French Presidency’s plans for the question of renewable energy solutions with regard to Cyprus. In March 2008, the European Council called in its conclusions for the reduction of greenhouse gases emissions by 20 percent until 2020 and the increase in biofuel use and renewable energy resources by 10 percent to 20 percent.[8] Nicosia, however, on various occasions has argued that it is not possible to achieve the EU target by 2020, as its emissions quota is relatively high due to the island-state's large dependence on oil and its intensive air traffic. Moreover, Cyprus lacks the appropriate infrastructure (the construction of wind parks is still examined by the responsible authorities) in order to be able to produce energy from renewable energy sources. According to media reports, Paris – after consultations with the Cypriot authorities – is expected to promote a 5 percent reduction in gas emissions and the increase in use of renewable energy sources by 13 percent by 2020 for the island-state.[9]
Common migration policy
 
The establishment of a common immigration policy is also endorsed by Nicosia as an important priority for the French Presidency. Minister of the Interior Neoklis Silikiotis, interviewed by the “Cyprus News Agency”, explained that Cyprus faces numerous immigration-related problems as thousands of asylum warrants are still pending, the country lacks detention centres, and delays in the deportation process give rights to illegal immigrants (especially women and children) to remain in the island.[10] Cyprus also faces financial problems, as it is burdened with the deportation costs, and therefore considers the engagement of EU funds as very important. Minister Silikiotis stressed that the EU ought to assume its responsibility in the fair distribution of aid to countries such as Cyprus that face a disproportionately large problem with illegal immigration.[11]
 
Nicosia has been a strong supporter of President Sarkozy’s initiative for a Mediterranean Union, which was finally launched on July 13th. Upon his arrival from Paris, where he attended the Mediterranean Union Summit, President Christofias welcomed the aim of the Union for the Mediterranean that, in his words “is to promote peace and stability in the area by enhancing cooperation through joint programmes on climate change, alternative energy sources, sustainable development, and other fields”.[12]
 
EEAS will benefit from a step-by-step approach
 
As regards the European External Action Service (EEAS), there was no extensive public discussion by the Cypriot political elite. Nevertheless, high-ranking officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs shared with us their conviction that EU foreign policy needs to become more coherent in order to increase the union’s status on the international scene.[13] The EEAS, which is envisaged by the Lisbon Treaty, is a substantial step towards a more coherent and united EU foreign policy, which will promote a more integrated European Union. In their own words, the Cypriot diplomats told us that “the materialisation of this body is the end product for the enrichment of the CFSP, since the EU aims at an enhanced role in international politics”[14].
 
Even though the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy is to be supported by a EEAS made up of staff from the European Commission, the Council Secretariat and the diplomatic services of the member states, the Cypriot diplomats expressed their concerns regarding the ability of small member states to promote their vital interests at a European level.[15]
 
Cypriot Ministry for Foreign Affairs officials also admitted that in regards to the Cyprus problem there were many obstacles that they had to face and that a number of their European counterparts had difficulties in understanding the root-causes of the Cyprus problem (namely, that, according to international law, it is the universally condemned Turkish invasion of 1974 and the massive violation of the Cypriots’ human rights through the ongoing occupation of 37 percent of the Republic’s territory).[16] Our Ministry for Foreign Affairs interlocutors also added that, needless to say, the EEAS should base its decisions on the established principles of international law and its main aim should be the protection and promotion of human rights.
 
For this very reason, Cypriot diplomats stated, a step-by-step approach will be highly beneficial for the EEAS. They explained that, beginning with a ’pilot period’; the EU-27 can then shift to a broader co-operation that will include all external relations.[17]
 



[1] Presentation of the priorities of the French presidency of the EU to the European Parliament Plenary in Strasbourg, 10/07/2008.

[2] Press Conference held by the French Embassy in Nicosia, 09/07/2008.

[3] Interviews conducted by Christos Xenophontos, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, early July 2008.

[4] The conclusions of the European Council of December 2006 call Turkey to fully implement the Ankara Protocol which extends the customs union to states that became members in 2004 and the Republic of Cyprus, in particular. As Turkey refuses to extend the customs union to Cyprus, the opening of eight chapters of negotiations related to the implementation of the Ankara Protocol and the provisional closing of all negotiation chapters is dependent upon Turkey’s full compliance with its commitments under the Ankara Protocol.

[5] Interviews conducted by Christos Xenophontos, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, early July 2008.

[6] Statements by President Demetris Christofias, 09/05/2008.

[7] Interviews conducted by Christos Xenophontos, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, early July 2008.

[8] Council of the European Union (Brussels): Presidency Conclusions, 13th and 14th of March 2008, available under. (last access: 01/09/2008).

[9] Media Releases after the announcement of the French Presidency’s priorities, 10/07/2008-13/07/2008.

[10] Cyprus News Agency: Interview of Minister of Interior Neoclis Sylikiotis, available under: (last access: 26/06/2008)

[11] Ibid.

[12] Statement by President Demetris Christofias, 14/07/2008.

[13] Interviews conducted by Christos Xenophontos, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, late June 2008.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.