Just when you thought that you'd had enough turkey to last you until next Christmas, up pops a debate on Turkey in the Lords, called for by Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece from the Liberal Democrat benches...
Baroness Scott of Needham Market
My Lords, I join the congratulations to my noble friend Lady Hussein-Ece on securing this important debate today, on her excellent introduction to it, and on giving us the opportunity to hear important contributions from across the House-in particular, from my noble friend Lord Sharkey, who I thought made an extremely good maiden speech. I know that the whole House will look forward to hearing from him again on this and other topics.
The Motion refers to the role of Turkey in international affairs. I shall address my remarks to one geographically very small area of Turkish influence, but one that has enormous strategic importance. I refer to Cyprus. The motive behind my contribution is simple. It is born out of a great interest in and huge affection for Cyprus. I lived in Nicosia and in Limassol as a small child when my Air Force father was stationed at the early warning radar station in the Troodos mountains, and I have been a regular visitor ever since, most recently in October, for the wedding of my daughter in Paphos. After that event, I took the opportunity to cross into northern Cyprus-at the invitation of the Government-to have a look and to have a series of meetings and to pay some visits over what was a very busy and interesting three-day period. I used the Ledra Palace crossing-which is a strange experience: a 500-metre walk in bright sunshine through abandoned, very quiet and war-damaged Nicosia suburbs. The whole thing had something of a John Le Carré feel to it. In fact, it is said, perhaps apocryphally, that modern-day Berliners like to try the experience just to remind themselves of how it used to be.
So what should be done about this long-standing division of Cyprus? It is worth reminding ourselves that Cyprus has been divided since 1963 and that the United Nations has been keeping the green line between Greek and Turkish Cypriots since then. It is not something that happened since 1974 and the arrival of Turkish troops.
With the ease of crossing, perhaps the outside world wonders whether it is worth bothering to try to find a solution to Cyprus-everybody is getting on, everything is all right. I believe that it would be a big mistake to think that way. First, for the people of Cyprus, all of whom are EU citizens, there is a high price to pay for the current lack of an agreed settlement: both sides live with large numbers of troops; economic development, especially in tourism, is damaged by a division which looks inexplicable to modern visitors from outside; and property markets are damaged by uncertainty over title. Perhaps most important of all, infrastructure decisions on this small island, which ought sensibly to be made on a whole-island basis, are being made separately. The most obvious example is water, where the Greek Cypriot solution to the chronic water shortage is to build desalination plants, while the north is planning a water pipeline direct from Turkey.
It seems to me that the role of the United Kingdom in helping to resolve the Cyprus question is absolutely key, because of the historic links of Empire and Commonwealth, because of our status as one of the guarantor powers, because of the strategic importance of the sovereign bases in Cyprus and because of our EU membership-and because we, above all, are the promoters of Turkish accession to the EU. That gives us a moral obligation, as well as a policy obligation, to try to move the impasse forward. We have to be sufficiently realistic to admit that there is now a stalemate in Cyprus.
On the Greek Cypriot side, there is undoubtedly an emotional desire to see reunification of the island. But the evidence is that it is very doubtful whether that sentiment is matched by any kind of commitment to reach a settlement which offers Turkish Cypriots the protection that they need; and the astounding rejection by Greek Cypriots of the Annan plan was hardly going to engender confidence on the Turkish side, which had voted for it. The acceptance of the Republic of Cyprus into the EU was a mistake and has left a total absence of leverage on the Greek Cypriot side to make any concessions at all.
In contrast, in northern Cyprus the most important factor is not unification but the need for security, representative governance and autonomy. There is a widespread and understandable feeling that Turkish Cypriots have been let down by the international community ever since unrest escalated in Cyprus during the 1960s. The policy of economic isolation for northern Cyprus is simultaneously creating an economic disparity on the island that makes unification less likely, which makes any kind of resolution less likely and is, indeed, driving Turkish Cypriots into a growing economic dependence, as well as a cultural and social dependence, on Turkey. It is a fact that fewer Turkish Cypriots speak Greek now than was the case in 1974 and that can only make life more difficult.
Yet, having spent a little time in northern Cyprus, it is clear to me that this policy of isolation, while hindering northern Cyprus and stopping it reaching its full potential, is actually not damaging it enough to make the sort of difference that perhaps its opponents might want. It looks to me as though northern Cyprus is thriving despite all of those problems and is not about to cave in any time soon to the pressure of isolationist economic policies.
It seems to me that it is high time for a rethink. First, all sorts of international organisations, particularly sporting organisations, need to rethink their current policy of bans. These things really do matter to countries. We also should accept the reality that thousands of people fly into Ercan airport but are inconvenienced by the extra time required for a touchdown in Turkey and the extra costs of flights. Finally and most importantly, the EU regulation which would allow direct trade between the EU and northern Cyprus must be implemented. This was promised to Turkish Cypriots and has been blocked since 2004. The Lisbon treaty now gives an opportunity to bring that forward. If this were to be passed, not only would the economic situation in northern Cyprus improve but Turkey would then open up ports and airports to Greek Cypriots, which would help their economy too. I hope the Minister can assure the House that normalising relationships on Cyprus, which is the key to unlocking the accession of Turkey to the European Union, is a high priority for the Government.