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16th Feb 2019

MEPs consider Turkish Cypriot observers in EU parliament

Political group leaders in the European Parliament will on Thursday (14 March) discuss a contentious report which raises the idea of Turkish Cypriot representatives in the parliament, while also proposing that Turkish should get an official EU language status.

The confidential report - seen by EUobserver - was prepared by the parliament's "High-Level Contact Group for relations with the Turkish Cypriot community in the northern part of the island," a cross-political group of MEPs established by the EU assembly in September 2005.

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  • UN observation post in Cyprus - the island entered the EU in 2004 while still divided (Photo: UN)

The contact group was created to help ease the isolation of Turkish Cypriots following the rejection by Greek Cypriots of a UN plan to reunify the island in a 2004 referendum on the eve of Cyprus' EU accession.

The failed referendum meant that Cyprus entered the EU as a divided island, leaving the Turkish Cypriot community out of the territory where EU law applies.

The contact group report is technically an internal parliamentary document, briefing political group chiefs on the activities of the group and asking them to extend the mandate of the group until the 2009 European elections.

But members of the group, composed of eight MEPs of different political factions, held intense discussions on the exact wording of the sensitive report, which states itself that "opinions differ on several points."

One of the paragraphs causing controversy deals with the question of whether or not to grant Turkish Cypriots a form of representation in the European Parliament, with all six MEPs from Cyprus currently being Greek Cypriots.

The report states that "the Turkish Cypriots reiterated their wish before the Group to be invited to send their own representatives to the European Parliament" - a formula expressing a compromise between the Greens, liberals and socialists who support this wish and the conservative EPP-ED group which strongly opposes it.

"I wanted the report to officially propose that the Turkish Cypriots could send representatives to the European Parliament," said German Green MEP Cem Ozdemir, adding that following conservative opposition, he had as a second-best option proposed "to quote the wish" of the Turkish Cypriots.

Mr Ozdemir said the Turkish Cypriot representatives could have the status of "observers," comparable to the mandate of the Romanian and Bulgarian observers in the parliament before their countries joined the EU last January.

Karin Resetarits, an Austrian liberal, said the Turkish Cypriot representatives should also have the right to take part in debates. "They cannot have the status of elected members, but at least in parliamentary debates dealing with their home country, their voice should be heard," she said.

But Francoise Grossetete, the French conservative co-ordinator of the group, rejects Turkish Cypriot participation in the EU assembly. "The northern part of the island is not recognised by any state except Turkey. So in the present legal context, it is not possible that there would be an observer from the northern part of the island," she stated.

'Official' document?

The contact group report will not be submitted to any parliamentary vote, nor does it have the formal status of a European Parliament report or resolution.

But MEPs sympathetic to the Turkish Cypriot cause stress that the report represents the first EU parliament document which mentions the idea of Turkish Cypriot representation, while also claiming that it will still have an "official" status.

"As soon as the conference of presidents [of political groups] receives the report, it will have official status as a written statement by the European Parliament's High-Level Contact Group," Mr Ozdemir said.

"From now on we cannot behave as if this wish [for Turkish Cypriot representation] did not exist and ignore it," he stated.

The report is also the first European Parliament document to propose granting an official EU status to the Turkish language after the accession of a divided Cyprus in 2004.

Turkish language

Here, the wording of the report is less ambivalent, stating that "the Group considers that the acknowledgement of the Turkish language as an official language of the EU would greatly facilitate [its] contacts with the Turkish community."

"It is very important that we have this written down in the report. Recognition of the language in the EU is also about identity," said Ms Resetarits.

"I am in favour of now undertaking practical follow-up steps, like a meeting with the new European commissioner for multilingualism on this issue," Mr Ozdemir added.

But the EPP-ED is likely to try and block such moves, with Ms Grossetete saying "as long as reunification of the island is not done, the question of the Turkish language is not on the agenda."

The parliament's political group leaders are expected on Thursday to give their green light to the contact group to keep its work going until 2009.

Parliamentary officials said the report will probably not pass without discussion, with EPP-ED group leader Joseph Daul seen as keen that the group does not overstep its mandate by wading into EU diplomacy over the sensitive Cyprus issue.

The German EU presidency is currently holding talks with both the Cypriot government as well as with Turkish Cypriots over ways in which to open direct trade between the EU and the northern part of the island.

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