“This belongs to the history, and President Papadopoulos, with whom I had good relationship, is now dead. I think it makes more sense to end this kind of debating”, he said.
Verheugen was speaking at a press conference here yesterday, after a series of meetings he hold with Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism Antonis Paschalides.
During the conference he was asked if Cyprus accession to the European Union was a mistake.
“No, it was not. And I have never joined those who say it was a mistake”, he said, adding that the simultaneous Cyprus accession to the EU and solution of the Cyprus problem was the right strategy.
“I believe that the events which came later clearly demonstrated that it is the right strategy. We came really close to find a solution, as you remember, closer than ever”, said the former Commissioner for Enlargement, noting that the bigger stake was not the reunification of Cyprus, but the unification of Europe with the accession of the eastern European countries.
“During these years our first priority was to make sure that Cyprus problem will not be an obstacle for the accession of the 11 other countries. That was the priority number one”, he stressed.
Cyprus, which joined the EU in May 2004, has been divided since 1974, when Turkey invaded and occupied its northern third.
Asked if it was a mistake for the EU to begin negotiations without safeguarding that Turkey will confront and behave as a candidate country, the European Commissioner referred to the Turkey’s stance on the UN-plan for the solution of the Cyprus problem in 2004.
“I would like to remind you that the government of Turkey in 2004 fully endorsed the plan of the UN, which foresaw a military presence of only 600 troops. It had fully endorsed and the majority of the Turkish Cypriots also endorsed. So I cannot see how we can blame the accession process and the accession negotiation”, he said.
In April 2004, a solution plan presented by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was put to simultaneous referenda. The Turkish Cypriot community voted in favour, while the Greek Cypriot community rejected it as unacceptable due to the fact that it did not meet its main concerns.
Verheugen stressed that the need to find a solution to the Cyprus problem exists, and that “the most promising approach is the approach when the two leaders of both sides are committed to find a solution”.
Referring to his meeting with President Christofias, Verheugen said that they discussed the situation in Cyprus, the efforts to find a solution, issues of mutual concern between Cyprus and the EU and the response of the EU to the global economic crisis.
Verheugen also stressed that Cyprus participation in the EU benefited the country, and this is something, as he said that it can be seen by the fact that Cyprus affected less from the global economic crisis.
Verheugen noted that President Christofias expressed his commitment to the direct negotiation process. “He made it also very clear that the ownership of this process is on the two sides, two parties and two leaders, under the auspices of the United Nations”, he said.
The European official also expressed the strong support of the Commission towards the ongoing process. “I do believe that there has been an opportunity, given the fact, that on both sides you have leaders who want a solution and who understand that the reunification of Cyprus is at the benefit of all people on both sides, Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots”, he said and encouraged the leaders of the two communities to continue the efforts for a solution.
The leaders of the two communities in Cyprus, Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat have been engaged in direct negotiations since early September last year, aiming at reunifying Cyprus, divided since the Turkish invasion of 1974.
As regards the meeting with Minister of Commerce, Industry and Tourism, Antonis Paschalides, Verheugen said that they discussed a lot of issues, and mainly the issue of tourism, which is the most important industry in Cyprus with huge potentials.
Noting that Cyprus has to confront with countries such as Egypt, Turkey, Croatia, Montenegro, as regards tourism, Verheugen said that the country should upgrade its quality.
“The competition is really strong and that of course requires for Cyprus to develop the product in a way that is based on sustainability and quality”, he said and concluded:
“We totally agree that the future of tourism here in this country is definitely by improving the quality and making Cyprus a place for tourists who have higher ambitions than the others”.
Financial Mirror, June 16, 2009