Dr. Erato Kozakou-Markoulis was interviewed by Mary Savva, chief editor of EurActiv Greece. The original interview in Greek can be found here.
When the Accession Treaty of Cyprus in the EU was signed on 16 April 2003, the then-President Tassos Papadopoulos called this a “historic moment that indelibly ensures the future course of Cyprus”. How do you assess this course nine years later?
Cyprus’ accession to the EU on the 1st of May 2004 undoubtedly constitutes the most significant milestone in the contemporary history of Cyprus after the [independence] Declaration of the Republic of Cyprus in 1960.
EU membership significantly strengthens the Republic of Cyprus, the independence and the sovereignty of our country. Under the Accession Treaty, the whole Cyprus has joined the EU, with the acquis implementation in the northern part of the island having been suspended due to the Turkish occupation. Currently, Turkey is illegally occupying European territory. Its aim for full [EU] membership implies ending the occupation.
Moreover, Cyprus’s EU accession has acted as catalyst for modernisation and as a factor of structural reforms’ acceleration that our country needs, in order to meet successfully the challenges of the 21st century.
Since the 1st of May 2004, the most substantial shifts achieved by our accession is the reinforcement of the four fundamental freedoms. The full participation in the Single Market, the free movement of people, capital, goods and services, helped Cyprus to create better conditions for economic growth. In addition, these liberties helped us create more opportunities for the Cypriot goods and services. Our accession to the eurozone, despite the unfolding crisis, is being assessed as positive, as it opens horizons for long-term prosperity.
The rotating presidency of the European Council from 1st of July 2012 is considered as another milestone for Cyprus, but simultaneously, an enormous challenge that we should meet. As a relatively new member state – and one of the smallest ones in the EU - we are urged to take a difficult and complex responsibility for coordinating and promoting the European policies in various fields which fall under the competencies of the EU. We are deeply convinced that we will win the bet, and boost the image of the Republic of Cyprus.
No solution to the Cyprus problem was achieved in time for the Cypriot EU presidency. Do you believe that Cypriots can fully enjoy the benefits of EU accession, as long as the island remains divided and the Turkish occupation continues?
The Cypriot problem and the ongoing direct talks for its solution are subject to the mission of the good offices of the United Nations Secretary-General. They are not related or influenced in any way with the exercise of the EU presidency by the Republic of Cyprus.
The president of the Republic of Cyprus has repeatedly stated that the talks between the two communities may continue during the six months of the presidency of Cyprus in the EU. The EU presidency does not affect in any way either our dedication or our determination to continue the talks to find a solution to the problem. The Republic of Cyprus intends to manage the developments in the Cypriot issue in parallel with the EU presidency without letting these two issues affect each other and without accepting artificial timelines and threats posed by Turkey.
The responsibility for the failure to find a solution to the Cypriot issue lies in the fact that Turkey, which holds the key to the solution, refuses to comply with the UN’s resolutions regarding Cyprus and the repeated insistence of the international community to put an end to the illegal occupation of the 36.2% of the territory of Cyprus... an occupation that is the result of Turkey’s military invasion in the summer of 1974. We should not forget that the Cypriot issue was and remains a problem of invasion and occupation in violation of international law and the UN Charter.
We remain absolutely committed to the vision of the island’s re-unification, as provided by the UN Security Council’s resolutions, and we stress that this is considered to be the only arrangement that can be found to restore legality, peace, stability and prosperity to the Cypriot people, with full respect and protection of the human rights and fundamental liberties of all Cypriot citizens.
The fact that Cyprus is a member of the EU can be considered as an incentive for our country’s reunification, if Ankara realises that a common future will benefit the whole people of Cyprus.
How does Cyprus respond to the Turkish threats of freezing official contacts with the EU during the Cypriot presidency?
The Cypriot EU presidency constitutes a Treaty obligation and a right arising from membership in the EU as an equal partner. The statements and the modus operandi adopted by the Turkish leadership regarding the Cypriot presidency are insulting and provocative, not only towards the Republic of Cyprus, but towards the EU as a whole.
We expect from Turkey, as an accession candidate country to the EU, to respect the institutional role of the European Council’s presidency, which is a fundamental institutional feature of the EU. This obligation of Turkey was confirmed both by the Council of Europe and by the European Council in its conclusions in December 2011, where it expressed strong dissatisfaction and concern with respect to the Turkish attitude. …
The Republic of Cyprus is determined to address effectively and successfully the historic challenge of its EU presidency. Our objective is not to let the Turkish threats and provocations affect the management of the Cypriot presidency and to contribute, to the fullest extent possible, to shaping the common future for Europe and its peoples. We expect from [EU] candidate Turkey to show the same seriousness and responsibility.
Many companies expressed strong interest in participating in the second licencing round of the offshore gas fields in the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone. What are the political benefits from the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbon deposits? How do you react to the fact that Turkey has claims on what appear to be the most prospective fields?
The Republic of Cyprus looks forward to explore and eventually exploit the hydrocarbon resources that are located in the seabed of the Cypriot Exclusive Economic Zone. It believes that the benefits from it will be primarily economic, for the Cypriot people as a whole. The exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons simultaneously require the substantial development of the bilateral and multilateral relations with all the countries that have marine frontiers with Cyprus, and above all relations that concern the cooperation in sea and hydrocarbon exploitation issues.
Cyprus is also looking forward to developing better diplomatic relations in the energy field, as well as to play its part in the effort for the energy supply of the EU.
We believe that the exploration and exploitation of hydrocarbons in the southeastern part of the EU has great strategic significance and we expect that this consideration will soon find its necessary place in the policies of the EU and its member states.
It is not correct to say that the most popular prospective fields are the ones that Turkey claims. But we should point out that the Turkish claims and complaints are legally groundless, politically provocative and arrogant. These claims have its origins in the perception of Turkey about power due to its size. The Republic of Cyprus will continue its programme of the Exclusive Economic Zone underground exploration, and the exploitation of its hydrocarbon resource. Cyprus is determined to exercise, in accordance with the international law and with diplomatic prudence, its sovereign rights in the Exclusive Economic Zone that belongs to it.
Does the Greek political scene affect Cyprus? To what extend does Cyprus feel threatened by the recent developments in Greece and its debt crisis?
The debt crisis in Greece could not leave the Cypriot economy and banks unaffected, especially as the latter were particularly exposed to Greek bonds. Nevertheless, the Republic of Cyprus has taken all the necessary measures to counter the negative consequences provoked by the Greek debt crisis. In parallel, the Republic of Cyprus keeps on supporting Greece’s efforts and feels solidarity with the Greek people, and we are optimist that the country will finally find a way out of the present difficult situation. The Republic of Cyprus, as all the partners in the EU, does not want a Greek exit from the eurozone, a scenario which we consider as unlikely