The European Parliament is not an institution which would favour a solution to the Cyprus problem with derogations from the acquis communautaire, the new Head of European Parliament Information Office in Cyprus Andreas Kettis has stressed.
And this is because the EP is the political institution which perceives political unification and economic integration of the EU as an irreversible process and therefore any proposal that deviates from this logic, such as the proposal for derogations, will be to say the least difficult to be accepted by a political institution with such clear position.
In an interview with CNA Andreas Kettis spoke about the role and the mission of the European Parliament Information Office, the priorities set for 2016, priorities related mainly to the youth and the enhanced presence of his Office in the Turkish Cypriot community, the EU refugee crisis and EP`s approach with regard to the Cyprus problem, notably to the issue of compatibility of a potential political agreement with the European acquis.
On the importance of the EU in citizens` daily lives, he emphasised that over and above all, the EU is a peace project. “Today young people take peace for granted because, fortunately, they have never had experiences such as WW II or other regional wars on the European continent” he said, stressing that EU`s greatest achievement is to secure peace. “And without peace, no other policy is possible” he added.
For the European Parliament more particularly, he noted that it is important for citizens to participate in the European elections because, as he explained, the EP has the political power to push the Council and the governments of the Member States towards the people`s will. Therefore, he explained, it is up to citizens through their participation and through active citizenship to change any situation.
On the role and mission of the European Parliament Office in Cyprus, Andreas Kettis explained that the EP has a network of representative offices throughout the Member States which operate as sort of small embassies of the European Parliament with their main mission being to convey to citizens what happens in the European Parliament.
Moreover the Office organises a variety of activities on various themes related to EU values and principles and flagship actions throughout the year.
He further noted that part of the Office`s mission is to assist the efforts of Cypriot MEPs. “We are in direct contact with them and the Office supports their effort and organised related events in which they participate,” he said.
Regarding the priorities set by the Office for 2016, Kettis spoke about two major priorities.
The first priority is youth. As he explained, the actions of the EP Office will focus on informing young people, high school students and university students about the European Union, its policies, about what the EU is doing specifically for the youth, taking into account youth unemployment.
The second priority area has to do with further promoting the Office`s presence and actions in the Turkish Cypriot community. The reason, according to Andreas Kettis, is obvious. “Probably 2016 will be a year of significant developments as it concerns reunification of the country and therefore we should be ready as EU institutions and prepare properly so that we have reliable interlocutors in Turkish Cypriot community,” he said, clarifying however that “we talk about contacts with organisations of civil society, and not any institutional contacts with institutions or bodies of the regime”.
“The message is that the European Parliament and the European Union in general will be present the day after of the solution, in order to help the process, a process which will be difficult especially at the beginning. Therefore it is important to support the future federal government of Cyprus ” he stressed.
He also noted that another priority set for 2016 is to bring the Cypriot MEPs in closer contact with citizens` groups with a direct interest in specific issues that MEPs deal with in the framework of their activities within the EP.
With regard to the role of the European Parliament in the management of crises the EU is currently challenged with, particularly the unprecedented refugee crisis, EP Information Office Head noted that the EP has to play a crucial political role. Undoubtedly, he told CNA, “we are going through an identity crisis in the EU, a crisis that questions fundamental EU principles such as solidarity and freedom of movement. We see that there is a general setback to European integration in response to these crises, but the European Parliament is the guarantor of unity. Where in the Council we witness disagreements and groupings of Member States, the EP plays its institutional unifying role and will not sacrifice the principles and values on which the EU is based.”
Asked on the position of the European Parliament in relation to attempts to link the humanitarian crisis with Turkey`s accession process, Kettis made it clear that as Turkey`s accession process is purely an intergovernmental process, the European Parliament`s role is purely political and is expressed in its annual report on Turkey, which for this year is expected to be released shortly after the Turkish elections of November 1st.
He noted that at this stage within the European Parliament there is evident political perception that indeed Turkey is particularly important as far as addressing the humanitarian crisis is concerned, given the fact that the country hosts more or less 2 million refugees and migrants. “There is a general satisfaction in EU institutions for the way in which Turkey has dealt with the matter and on this issue Turkey enjoys great support within the EP as well” he said.
Asked whether the fact that the EP has no competence on the accession negotiations with Turkey means that they there will be no pressure on Cyprus by the EP to open accession chapters, Kettis reiterated that EP has no direct influence and no role in an intergovernmental process such as Turkey`s accession negotiations, indicating however that the resolutions adopted by the EP are taken seriously into consideration by the Commission and the Council.
“On the specific question about the refugee crisis, I would say directly that Turkey has great sympathy and understanding also within the EP, as it has dealt with a huge number of immigrants and refugees with a highly satisfactory manner. And this is widely recognised by the EP President and the political groups” he noted, indicating however that this does not mean that Turkey will be rewarded for this no matter what. He referred at the same time to the decisions taken during the past European Summit, and explained that despite the promises given to Turkey, in a technocratic intergovernmental level, negotiations do not change much.
“They have given some promises such as the issue of liberalising visas but to get to that point many other technical issues should be fulfilled and this needs some years,” he explained.
With regard to the ongoing talks to solve the Cyprus problem and particularly the debate related to compatibility of a potential solution with the European acquis and how the EP addresses the issue of derogations, Andreas Kettis recalled that the EP has a very clear position on the Cyprus problem which has been expressed by the overwhelming majority of the Parliament in the last resolution on Turkey`s accession course adopted last year.
“The EP fully supports the current process of inter-communal negotiations to achieve a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem based on a bizonal, bicommunal federation with political equality as defined by the relevant UN Security Council resolutions” he said and explained that the aim is to find a mutually acceptable agreement to build a federal Cyprus based on the fundamental EU principles and values.
He noted further that the EP President regularly monitors developments and is regularly briefed by Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and expressed the hope that sometime in the near future it will be possible to arrange a visit of Martin Schulz to Cyprus. He stated, however, that such a visit would depend on the progress of negotiations.
On this issue on the European acquis, Kettis said the EP is not an institution that would favour a solution with derogations from the acquis. And this, as he explained, because the EP is the political institution which perceives the political unification and the economic integration of the EU as an irreversible process and therefore any proposal that deviates from this logic, such as the proposal for derogations, will be at least difficult to be accepted by a political institution with such clear position.