Léim ar aghaidh chuig an bpríomhábhar

Tuesday, 17 Jul 2012

Priorities of the Cypriot Presidency: Discussion with Republic of Cyprus Ambassador

I remind members and guests to switch off their mobile telephones. This is important because they cause broadcasting problems. It is not sufficient to turn them to silent mode. Apologies have been received from Deputies Halligan and Dooley.

The first matter on our agenda is a discussion of the priorities for the Cypriot Presidency of the Council of the European Union which begins in July and ends when we take over in December. On behalf of the committee I welcome his excellency, Dr. Michalis Stavrinos, the ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus to Ireland. We are looking forward to hearing about the priorities for Cyprus. Hosting the rotating Presidency is always a demanding task for member states, especially for smaller countries such as Cyprus and Ireland. I have no doubt, however, that Cyprus will rise to the challenge. I visited the country last week for the first meeting of the chairs of COSAC, which was very enjoyable and went according to plan. Everything was in order and I am sure the remainder of the Presidency will be carried out in a similar fashion.

Before we begin I remind members of the long-standing parliamentary practice to the effect that members should not comment on, criticise or make charges against a person outside the Houses or an official, either by name or in such a way as to make him or her identifiable. By virtue of the Defamation Act 2009, witnesses are protected by absolute privilege in respect of the evidence they are to give to this committee but if they are directed by the committee to cease giving evidence in respect of a particular matter and they continue to do so, they are entitled thereafter only to a qualified privilege in respect of their evidence. They are directed that only evidence connected with the subject matter of these proceedings is to be given and are asked to respect the parliamentary practice to the effect that where possible they should not criticise nor make charges against any person or entity by name or in such a way as to make him, her or it identifiable.

H.E. Dr. Michalis Stavrinos

It is a great pleasure and honour to participate in this special occasion marking the first official presentation of the Cypriot Presidency's priorities to the Joint Committee on European Union Affairs. I congratulate Denmark for the excellent Presidency it has performed and, especially, my distinguished colleague, Mr. Niels Pultz, for his outstanding leadership. This Presidency is the first for Cyprus and thus marks it an important occasion and an historical challenge. It also offers a unique opportunity for my country to contribute to the achievement of the EU's visions and goals. It is our belief that the EU must emerge stronger from the current crisis by further deepening European integration. That is why the vision of the Cyprus Presidency is one of "a Better Europe, more hospitable, but also more efficient in facing today's challenges".

It is high time to turn with due sensitivity to the human and social dimensions of our joint endeavour, in parallel with our efforts to achieve more effectiveness and substantial growth. We need to assure the younger generations, that a brighter future is achievable and that we work intensively to make it a reality.

Negotiations on the new multi-annual financial framework, MFF, will constitute the most important challenge for the Cypriot Presidency. The MFF constitutes a mechanism ensuring that the EU is spending in a predictable and disciplined manner, but at the same time it sets political priorities for future years. In our view, the overall amounts proposed by the Commission constitute a reasonable basis for negotiations.

The aim is to successfully conclude the negotiations by the end of 2012. In order to overcome the social repercussions of the financial crisis, our Presidency will promote the European social model by upgrading the social and financial welfare of European citizens, while increasing competitiveness across the Union. The Cypriot Presidency will follow on from the excellent work accomplished by the Danish Presidency.

Particular attention will be given to the enhancement of the Single Market through the promotion of the Single Market Act, while promoting responsiveness to consumer needs and medium-sized enterprises. We will also promote an effective digital single market.

Focus will also be placed on policies for European citizens, while addressing societal challenges and thus achieving more inclusive growth for the Union. Particular emphasis will be placed on providing employment opportunities and a more secure future for young people.

We will also promote the effective implementation of the Europe 2020 strategy focusing on new, sustainable financial development without exclusions, thus achieving high levels of employment, social cohesion and sustainable growth. Horizon 2020 must strike a balance between excellence and the ability of all member states to participate in it.

The Common Agricultural Policy should remain an important EU policy and thus we would not like to see it being further reduced. On security and citizenship, we firmly believe that asylum and migration constitute the collective responsibility of all member states. We will work intensively for the completion of the common European asylum system by the end of 2012.

Regarding a global Europe, we welcome the emphasis given to external actions, especially to the European Neighbourhood Policy, ENP, and the reference made to the EU's formal undertaking to collectively commit 0.7% of Gross National Income, GNI, to official development assistance. Food security and safety remains another priority of the Cypriot Presidency. Growth can also be promoted through a strengthened EU external trade policy and the Cypriot Presidency will work towards this direction. The Presidency will focus on promoting the well-being of children, while advancing social inclusion of older persons, active ageing and the strengthening of solidarity between generations.

The Cypriot Presidency will promote the proposed new legal framework for the protection of personal data. It will also continue its efforts to achieve sustainable growth and resource efficiency, highlighting the importance of a more competitive Union based on a low-carbon, green economy. As 2012 has been declared the "Year of Water", the Presidency will carry on work aimed at the sustainable use of water resources. The relaunching of the integrated maritime policy will be another priority for the Cyprus Presidency.

The Presidency will continue discussion on the revised guidelines on transEuropean networks infrastructure on transport, energy and telecommunications.

We welcome the increase in energy infrastructure through the Connecting Europe facility. Our ambition is that no member state will remain isolated after 2015. Following recent developments in neighbouring countries, including the Arab Spring, Cyprus will also seek to bring Europe closer to its neighbours.

Furthermore, enlargement is an ongoing priority challenge. Cyprus attaches great importance to this process, as it constitutes a factor strengthening peace, democracy and stability in Europe and beyond. The examination of the progress of each applicant country will be based on the "own merits" approach, strict conditionality and equitable treatment.

The Cyprus Presidency is determined to contribute to advancing Iceland's accession negotiations, aimed at bringing the process as close as possible to its conclusion. Moreover, the reinforcement of Turkey's accession prospect is of critical importance. The Presidency will focus on advancing this prospect, in line with Turkey's negotiating framework and the relevant Council conclusions. At the same time, we stand ready to co-operate in a constructive manner on the positive agenda for Turkey, in line with the conclusions of the December 2011 General Affairs Council.

As regards the Western Balkans we stand ready to contribute to the decisive advancement of Montenegro's accession course, as well as to build on the momentum created by the European Council decision to grant candidate status to Serbia. We will, of course, continue to follow the monitoring process for the implementation of the commitments assumed by Croatia during the accession negotiations.

Our vision is to promote Europe, as the Greek expression uniquely describes it, as a "filoxenos topos” or hospitable place, in the broadest sense of the term. “Filoxenos topos” is part of our aspiration of a European Union more relevant to its citizens and the world. Our vision is to promote a hospitable place for enterprises, ideas, services, innovation and culture.

I would like to thank members of the joint committee for their attention. I am at their disposal for any questions or clarifications.

Thank you very much, Ambassador Stavrinos. I will now call our first questioner who is Senator Terry Leyden.

I wish to welcome the ambassador, Dr. Michalis Stavrinos, to this meeting and congratulate him on the first Cypriot Presidency of the European Union. It is a great honour for his country and I know the EU Presidency will be handled very well, as the ambassador has outlined in his statement.

Cyprus is a very beautiful country which I have visited a few times. Of course, it is a divided country. The ambassador's emphasis on the Middle East is appropriate because of his country's proximity to that region. The support and help of Cyprus towards ameliorating the Gaza situation, as well as the conflict between Palestine and Israel, are noted in particular. Cyprus has a great opportunity to assist in trying to bring about a reconciliation of that age-old conflict. It is now reaching a critical stage due to the situation in Syria and other Arab countries. The people of Gaza and Palestine feel let down by the international community. They are certainly not being given priority at the moment. All efforts to bring about a two-state solution are being frustrated by Israel's settlements and its non-compliance with EU recommendations.

I note the ambassador is conciliatory towards Turkey's EU accession prospects, but a bigger effort should be made to bring about a federal solution, or whatever can be arranged, for Cyprus. I find it sad and tragic to see Famagusta as a ghost city divided between the north and south of Cyprus. I regret that because I believe Cyprus has a great future. I wish the ambassador well in his work.

Like Senator Leyden, I wish to welcome Ambassador Stavrinos to the joint committee.

I wish to pick up on a point Senator Leyden made about Turkey, which is boycotting the Cypriot Presidency. Why is that happening and how is the EU collectively responding to the boycott? How is Cyprus dealing with this on a practical level given that the ambassador has just said his country's Presidency will focus on the accession of Turkey and that it will co-operate constructively on the positive agenda for Turkey? Is Cyprus receiving sufficient support from other EU countries, especially the smaller ones in that regard? Last week the Minister of State with responsibility for European affairs appeared before the committee to discuss the upcoming Irish Presidency. We discussed the social policy side of the Presidency. The ambassador said his country's Presidency would focus on promoting child well-being while advancing the social inclusion of older persons, active aging and the strengthening of solidarity between generations. Within this, what social policies and campaigns will the Cypriot Presidency champion? Has it set any important targets in social achievement? In particular I refer to youth unemployment, on which I understand the Cypriot Presidency will be working, as urgent actions are required to tackle it.

I also welcome the ambassador and congratulate him on his country's accession to the Presidency. All the issues he set out in the programme he outlined for us are crucial in today's evolving Europe. At various sessions in the past we have said that Europe is at a crossroads. Europe has been at many crossroads in the past 60 years. The particular crossroads at which Cyprus and the other European Union member states find themselves in economic and fiscal matters are very important. This is the one period that is likely to reap the rewards and benefits of the negatives in years to come, provided that the right decisions are made and provided that the aspirations the ambassador has set out on inclusivity and cohesion are followed.

I congratulate the ambassador on his country's efforts regarding the retention of the Common Agricultural Policy. It is critical to the foundation of the European Union that the European food industry is retained, stabilised and supported. The population of Europe, which is approximately 500 million people, would be far too great to leave to chance. Nothing should allow us to deviate from that.

The issue of Turkey is very important and we have discussed it many times in the past. I have never accepted the notion that Turkey should be forever playing a waiting game. Turkey is very important strategically and economically. It should be remembered that it has an influence of a positive nature on a considerable part of the western Balkans in particular. I congratulate the ambassador on setting out that issue in the course of his address. The western Balkans needs supervision of a friendly nature and encouragement from within the European Union and beyond. It is critical to the cohesion of Europe that the region is supported, encouraged and allowed to make the changes necessary both to meet the requirements of the European Union and the democratic requirements of natural justice in itself.

The neighbourhood policy is very important and the ambassador is to be congratulated for mentioning it. It is of particular importance in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and ongoing issues in the area with particular reference to Syria and also the Middle East in general.

I wish to make a point I have made often in the past. All the Presidencies from now on need to place special emphasis on their contribution to encouraging all EU member states to recognise each other's position and the degree to which all of us in the European Union depend on each other for the progress and success of what was a very successful project up to recently. Initially the European Union had great difficulty coming to grips with the economic challenges that emerged in the past five or six years. It now appears that eventually there is recognition of a way forward. That needs to be encouraged and worked hard at. Our neighbours in the UK seem to have drifted further away from the European project than was the case in the past. I have always believed that the success of the European project would be highly dependent on the degree to which our immediate neighbours are supportive. For any of the major European powers - France, Germany, Britain, Spain and Italy - to be in the outer rim of the European Union is not good for the European concept and will not work. We are in a precarious position at present. I strongly urge all those with influence to use it to encourage our next-door neighbours to come within the inner sanctum of the Union and to influence from within, which would be highly beneficial to all.

I ask the ambassador to take five minutes to respond to the questions asked after which we will have more questions from other members.

H.E. Dr. Michalis Stavrinos

I thank all the members for their questions. Cyprus has excellent relations with all its neighbours, including the Arab countries and Israel and will exert every effort to contribute in bringing progress on the peace efforts and in improving the situation in Gaza and the Palestinian Territories. Unfortunately we heard from our Palestinian colleague the other day that the situation is not very promising and could not be unless the main actors play their part. However, Cyprus will not be found wanting in the effort to contribute to it.

Regarding Turkey, there we have a paradox. We have a country aspiring to become a member of the European Union, which is occupying European territory - some 37% of the territory of Cyprus. In addition in its agreements with the European Union, it continues to deny implementation of the Ankara Protocol for the full implementation of the customs union. Nevertheless Cyprus, in an honest and neutral Presidency, is doing its best to give Turkey the opportunity to come closer to the European Union in so far as it fulfils its legal and contractual obligations. Despite initial negative reactions by Turkey claiming not to recognise the current Presidency, we hope it will change its mind because the only party damaged by this approach is Turkey. It is losing six months during which it could promote its own accession cause and also contribute to solving the Cyprus problem.

I fully agree that the social elements are very important. During the presentation of the priorities of the Cyprus Presidency in Strasbourg last week, our president put it at the front line of our efforts. In short, medium and long-term programmes there are elements enhancing the social and human aspect. In both the MFF and Europe 2020 there are specific references on how to bring the citizen to a better situation.

I agree that Europe is evolving and the only way to achieve success is to have everybody on board in a common effort, not only the smaller countries, but the bigger ones also, and those who appear to benefit from the current difficulties. All of this is temporary. Unless everybody understands this is a common project and contributes to getting out of the current difficulties, the project cannot be successful. I am optimistic and believe that all of us, even those who are currently part of the surrounding circle, will soon realise that the common benefit for every European will come from being at the core of the effort.

The western Balkans are an important area for all of us and that is the reason Syria is set as one of our main priorities. We are the closest neighbour of Syria among the European countries and we are very concerned about the situation, both the humanitarian and the broader strategic situation. Cyprus, despite its small size and financial difficulties, has prepared an emergency plan to assist the evacuation of European citizens from the country if the need arises - we hope not - as we did in the past in the case of the Lebanon.

Thank you.

I welcome the ambassador. I am happy he has included in his agenda the need for action on unemployment and efforts to create jobs. As we argue consistently, it is not enough that each country prunes national finances and adopts good fiscal policies. This is insufficient if not accompanied by job stimuli and action on job creation. The greatest blight on society currently is youth unemployment. This is a scandal and it is to our shame that young people cannot get work. The Cypriot Presidency will have the support of most of Europe if it develops imaginative strategies to deal with this issue. It should look at direct investment, but should also consider job-sharing options. While there is merit, given contemporary longevity and better health, in extending the working life of people, this should not happen if it means young people do not get work. I urge the ambassador to look imaginatively at the issue of young people being left outside of the workforce as this is bad for them at every level and for their personal development. Everybody is entitled to play a role in our economic activity and to be full participants at some time. I recognise the ambassador's inclusion of the broad principles, but I urge him to put a significant focus on youth unemployment and to initiate more imaginative responses than heretofore.

I welcome the ambassador's commitment to no reduction of expenditure with regard to the Common Agricultural Policy. This is crucial to the Irish economy and to our survival and recovery. All of our economic policies are contingent on a vibrant agricultural sector. I also welcome the ambassador's commitment to a sustainable food policy for Europe in the context of demographics and the need for quality food and self-sufficiency. With regard to the CAP, can we accept that the Cypriot Presidency will recognise the difference between us and Europe with regard to where we are in terms of agricultural production, the size of holdings and the different nature of our production patterns? Will Cyprus support the view that each country knows best how to deploy and expend common agricultural moneys from that envelope? In other words, what might fit Cyprus with regard to every instance of the distribution of moneys will not necessarily fit our current position. I urge the ambassador to reflect on this as I am interested in his response on it. The issue is a vital national interest both here and in Cyprus and we share a common objective to maintain the expenditure within the CAP, but we do not have a common strategy as to deployment and use of moneys.

I note the ambassador's interest in the Middle East and his recognition of the Arab Spring. I raised the issue at the Council of Europe - a forum quite distinct from this one and from the European Union, but which has relevance here - of the plight of Christians in Egypt, Tunisia and a number of other countries. The Christian minority, which comprises 10% of the population in Egypt, is adversely affected by state persecution and exclusion of an arcane, medieval type that is wrong. Christians are affected to the extent that 150,000 have migrated from Egypt in recent times. We welcome President Morsi's election, but we need to know that minorities will find acceptance. We are aware the Syrian situation is fraught with difficulty in this regard also.

I welcome the ambassador's commitment on the Middle East and to dealing with the situation in Gaza. I also welcome his views on Turkey and agree that a twin approach is necessary there. The opportunity must be provided to Turkey to engage in necessary reforms and it must be encouraged. Senator Kathryn Reilly raised the issue of social cohesion. I support her view that it would be heartening if we could leave here with some examples of where the ambassador sees social cohesion as important. However, we cannot have social cohesion while young people sit at home not working.

I welcome the ambassador to our meeting and have just two brief questions for him. In his address he said that following the Arab Spring, the Cypriot Presidency would also seek to bring Europe closer to its neighbours. What exactly does he mean by that? As a country considering some form of participation in an external aid programme, how has that influenced Cypriot views with regard to the form of Presidency the ambassador would like to see Cyprus discharge? Again, I thank the ambassador for his contribution and wish Cyprus the best of luck in its first European Union Presidency.

I, too, welcome the ambassador and wish Cyprus well with its Presidency. Like Deputy Donohoe, I note Cyprus has set out ambitious targets for its Presidency. What is the minimum Cyprus feels it is necessary to achieve during its term. I am conscious that Cyprus has, like Ireland, had to apply for a bailout and I wonder what life is like for average citizens in Cyprus. Is Cyprus happy with its bailout terms and what is the position now? I am aware that the Cypriot President is also looking for loans from China and Russia. Is that wise? Would it compromise bigger goals Cyprus might have?

Could the ambassador say a little about why Cyprus joined the European Union. It is a tiny country of fewer than 1 million people. Turkey, by comparison, is huge and claims up to half the island of Cyprus. How have Cyprus's goals been progressed since it joined the EU in 2004? I note that Turkey has threatened to boycott Cyprus's Presidency. The ambassador has referred to this. That is poor, as Turkey itself has applied to join the EU. This may be the time to be frank. Cyprus has been a member of the EU for eight years. How far has the cause of reunification been progressed?

I apologise for missing the ambassador's presentation. I have been catching up on the notes. I had a superb parliamentary assistant until recently. She has moved on to a life in London and I am lost without her. I am finding it difficult to keep on top of my diary until I find a replacement. That is my explanation for being late and I apologise.

Will Cyprus use the next number of months to work towards a resolution of its differences with Turkey? Many Irish people would like to see the reunification of Ireland at some time in the not too distant future, but there is a job of work do be done in that regard. Are there comparisons between Ireland and Cyprus? Ireland will take over the EU Presidency immediately after Cyprus. Does the ambassador see any work we could do together on the two reunification projects in Cyprus and Ireland? Is there anything on which we could work together? It seems obvious to me, but I would like to hear the ambassador's thoughts. I put the same question to the Minister of State, Deputy Creighton, last week. She may have been overly diplomatic in her response so I invite the ambassador to let loose on the issue.

Cyprus has a keen interest in the situation in Palestine. The European Council made a strong statement, which was welcomed in Ireland, containing its analysis of what is preventing a final resolution to the conflict and putting a particular emphasis on the illegal settlements in the occupied territories. The statement laid out a framework for peace in Palestine. The United States will be switched off until after its presidential election. This is an opportunity for Europe, possibly for the Cyprus Presidency and certainly for the external affairs team led by Catherine Ashton, to ensure that a vacuum is not created.

Dr. Stavrinos was present when the Palestinian ambassador addressed the Joint Committee on Foreign Affairs and Trade last week. I found that meeting sobering. The Palestinian ambassador was clear that the potential for a third intifada is real, which does not surprise anyone who observes the situation. Large numbers of young people have watched the Arab Spring and have seen the moderate leadership, with all its caution, not making any advances. Sadly, that will leave a vacuum to be filled by a more extreme response. The Palestinian ambassador was clear that Palestine is not far from that moment. There is a huge responsibility on Europe. What role can the Cyprus Presidency play in that?

H.E. Dr. Michalis Stavrinos

Allow me to start with the important question raised by Senator Healy Eames. Cyprus's decision to join the EU was unrelated to financial considerations. Cyprus was the only net contributor among the newcomers of the last big enlargement. The Cypriots decided to join the Union for two main reasons. First, they feel they are and have always been Europeans. Suffice to mention that the majority of today's European values were first taught by the Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium, a Cypriot, who established the Stoic school of thought, teaching unity in diversity, respect for the other's view, cosmopolis, tolerance and solidarity. The second reason was the effort of one of the smallest countries in Europe, literally an unarmed state, to get rid of a brutal invasion and occupation of 37% of its territory by one of the biggest countries and armies of the broader European area. Although we have right on our side, without power one cannot achieve anything. This power we found by being within the European family.

The Cypriots are, in the overwhelming majority, pro-European and they have gained much by participating in the European edifice. It might be hard to sense the values of being European during the difficult times in which we live, yet even in these difficult circumstances it could be easier to overcome them in unity with the rest of the partners than in isolation. This was shown by the willingness of all political parties and citizens to undertake the Presidency with much enthusiasm and positive spirit.

Europe is not only about finances and economics. It is also about values and principles, which shape the only promising model of pan-continental dimensions all over the world. Firm believers in the European project, all Cypriots support the current Presidency and we hope we will make our small contribution to the efforts to get out of the crisis.

The creation of jobs, especially for young people, is not a problem faced only in Ireland but has spread all over Europe. Unless we find a solution to it the problem will multiply. The young generation are our future. As long as they remain desperate no positive future can emerge from our efforts. That is why we have set job creation as a priority, with particular priority given to jobs for young people. In all the prepared programmes there are specific references to this. I do not have the details to hand, but youth employment is a priority in every programme.

We share the committee's view of the Common Agricultural Policy, CAP. It is not only a matter of providing every European with adequate food of proper quality. It is also part of the effort for growth. Unfortunately, certain circles within the European Union, including in Brussels, follow the opposite view. Some of them believe that by cutting down the CAP they can contribute to other fields. However, it is the firm belief of Cyprus that we should not accept any further reduction and that is why we include it in our priorities.

We fully agree that what is going on in the occupied areas of the Middle East is unacceptable. The same applies to every occupied territory, including Cyprus. We fully agree that the existence of the settlements is the biggest problem because it puts at risk the possibility of two viable states. We will do our best as honest brokers and as friends of both the Arabs and Israelis in the area to help, if possible, freeze those settlements and to advance the peace effort, which is the most important thing. Without more decisive intervention from bigger actors, this cannot be achieved. Recent indications, instead of being in the right direction, show a kind of reluctance to do the harder things. As a diplomat, I will stop there in regard to this issue.

In regard to the Arab Spring, our aim is to assist these countries to come closer to democratic processes, to give more rights to women, to respect the view of others and different religions, etc. That is why we fully agree with the need to protect the minorities in Syria, Egypt and elsewhere. Cyprus has taken a very firm position on this both within the European framework and bilaterally. We have very close exchanges with Egypt that non-Muslim minorities, including the Copts and other Christians, be fully respected. The same applies to Syria.

In regard to how Cyprus is dealing with the bailout and the bilateral loans, our approach is that the two issues are parallel, without one affecting or prejudicing the other. Our problem started with the exposure of our banks to Greek bonds. Keeping in mind the size of the economy of Cyprus, that exposure was so great that we needed to take measures in regard to the whole economy. The loans from Russia and China are still pending but there are some positive indications from Russia. In parallel with this, we have asked for a bailout from the European Union because we believe that with it, we can correct our shortcomings and improve our economy. I do not know if any questions remain unanswered.

Does the Ambassador see an opportunity, within the period of Cyprus's Presidency, to look at the issue of the reunification of Cyprus? Is there scope, within the next multi-annual framework, to look for PEACE-type funding? Ireland has received funding from three PEACE programmes and, hopefully, it will receive funding from a fourth programme. It has helped to bed down the peace process and give support to communities most affected. Is there an opportunity for PEACE funding in Cyprus? Is there an opportunity for Ireland and Cyprus to work together over the next year on that theme of reunification or, more importantly, peace and reconciliation building?

One of the things we have seen from our membership of the European Union is the impact it has had on the peace process between ourselves and the United Kingdom. Indeed, the European Union has been instrumental in ensuring peace between other countries in Europe, including France and Germany.

From speaking to people in the Cypriot Government and in Turkey last week, there seems to be very little discussion and negotiation between various parties. For us, it is essential that both parties reach out to each other. That is the only way a lasting peace will be found. It would be good if, during the course of its Presidency, Cyprus could go that extra mile to reach out to it opponents to try to come up with some sort of solution which might be lasting.

H. E. Dr. Michalis Stavrinos

There may be certain similarities between the division of Ireland and Cyprus. In our case, a member state of the United Nations and of the European Union was invaded and had 37% of its territory occupied by another member state of the United Nations. On top of that, Turkey was a guarantor under the Treaty of Guarantee of the Republic of Cyprus to protect the unity and integrity of Cyprus. There are two dimensions - the international one, which is a foreign occupation and invasion and the internal one, which is the arrangements between Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.

The population in Cyprus is 80% Greek Cypriots, 18% Turkish Cypriots and 2% Armenians, Maronites and Latins. It is a unique case where the 80% has offered the 18% a federal arrangement - bi-zonality and bi-communality - meaning that they would have their own area and manage their own affairs if they accepted the common federal construction.

Unfortunately, Turkey has different agendas in mind. I am very sorry to mention that but since I was asked, I must respond. Its idea is to revive the old Ottoman area of influence in the broader area. That is why, although it has promised zero problems with its neighbours, it is still having problems with Greece by claiming agreed arrangements at international level, by invading and occupying part of Cyprus, by having differences with Iraq in the Kurdish area, by having differences with Syria, etc.

Despite all of this, we do our best to achieve some progress. We never consider our small size and military weakness as a handicap. Like the Irish people, we are strong enough to rise above it and to face the biggest enemy as an equal. What we need is for it to respect the right of both the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots to be in their land and to abandon its agendas on the island. Right now, there are 40,000 Turkish soldiers on the island. Speaking about settlements, the Turkish Cypriots in the occupied part are in the minority. The settlers from Anatolia in Turkey are 2:1 to Turkish Cypriots.

To whom do we talk about the inter-communal issue? Unfortunately, everything depends on Turkey but, given its recent behaviour, it showed that it is not willing to reach an agreement. On top of that, Cyprus was lucky enough to discover some off-shore gas in its exclusive economic zone. That is to the south of the island and not to the north where Turkey is. Even in that case, Turkey came to this area and violated international law, despite EU decisions, UN decisions and even United States statements. We continue in our efforts. That is why I mentioned that one of our priorities is to assist Turkey to come closer to the European Union because by coming closer to European principles and rules, it will become more inclined to solve the Cyprus issue in a logical way.

There are some funds, which are channelled through the EU, to assist both the Turkish Cypriots and the peace effort but unless Ankara decides differently, I cannot be very optimistic. However, we will continue our effort in the hope that very soon, some light can be seen at the end of the tunnel. I thank the committee.

I thank the Ambassador for coming along today and answering our questions. We wish him the very best with the Presidency over the next six months.

The joint committee adjourned at 5 p.m. until 11.30 a.m. on Thursday, 19 July 2012.