Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades was hospitalised ahead of the first day of the EU summit yesterday (23 October), and was replaced at the summit by Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras. This is the first time that a leader from another country replaces a colleague at the EU summit table.
Anastasiades arrived in Brussels for the summit on 22 October. As Cypriot diplomats told EURACTIV, the Cyprus President always comes to EU summits one day in advance, the main reason being the long flight. Cyprus is the EU country most distant from Brussels.
On the morning of 23 October, Anastasiades was suffering from excessive nose bleeding. He was hospitalised and it was found that the incident was due to high blood pressure. Anastasiades was released from hospital, but was advised to stay in bed for the next 48 hours.
Ahead of the summit, Samaras visited Anastasiades, in his hotel and wished him a speedy recovery.
As strange as it may appear, Anastasiades cannot be replaced by a minister of an ambassador. According to the Lisbon Treaty, the EU Council meeting is attended by heads of state and government, and only a Council member can replace another Council member. Cyprus is a presidential republic, there is no Prime Minister, and the only option was that Anastasiades appoints the leader of another country to represent Cyprus at the summit.
Without surprise, Anastasiades asked Samaras to replace him. In fact, Anastasiades was planning to raise the issue of the incursions of a Turkish ship exploring for gas in the Cyprus economic zone, in an area where Cyprus has already issues companies licenses to drill.
Cyprus, which discovered natural gas at sea in December 2011, issued licences covering three offshore areas lying south and southeast of the island to an international consortium.
Turkey issued a NAVTEX (Navigational Telex), a notice to mariners by Turkey, advising that it was reserving areas south of Cyprus – including parts of the country’s exclusive economic zone – for seismic surveys, entered early on 20 October into force, until December 30.
Cyprus has called the Turkish move “illegal” and “provocative” and has suspended over this issue its participation in the UN-backed negotiations which aim to reunify the island under a federal roof.
In a message to Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu, Anastasiades stressed that while Turkey claims that it wants a solution of the Cyprus problem, its actions show exactly the contrary.
The EU summit conclusions are expected to contain a text in support of the Cyprus position.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 despite repeated efforts under the auspices of the UN to bring the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to the negotiating table.
Hopes for reunification were raised in 2002 when then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggested a two-part federation with a rotating presidency.
In an April 2004 referendum, the Greek Cypriots rejected - and the Turkish Cypriots approved - a UN-sponsored unity plan. The plan's failure disappointed EU officials, who had agreed to allow Cyprus to join the EU that year partly in the hope that doing so would encourage a solution. In May 2004, the Greek Cypriot-controlled Republic of Cyprus became a full member of the EU.
At their December 2004 summit, EU leaders agreed to open accession talks with Turkey on 3 October 2005. One of the conditions specified was for Ankara to extend a 1963 association agreement with the EU's predecessor, the European Economic Community, to the Union's 10 new member states. This group included the Greek Cypriot state, which is not recognised by Turkey.
In July 2005, Turkey signed a protocol extending its customs union to the EU-10 states, but at the same time Ankara issued a declaration saying that its signature did not mean it had recognised the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey also refused to open its ports and airports to Cyprus, as it claims the EU has fallen short of having direct trade with the unrecognised northern part of the island.