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Cyprus and Germany: Bilateral Relations in Times of Crisis and Possible Reunification. Keynote speech by Minister of State for Europe Michael Roth at the German-Cyprian Forum of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

27.11.2015

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Ladies and gentlemen,

“The future’s in the air,

I can feel it everywhere,

Blowing with the wind of change.”

Do you remember these lines? They are taken from a popular song by the German rock band The Scorpions that was released 25 years ago in November 1990. The song “Wind Of Change” became something like the unofficial anthem for the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification.

Twenty-five years later, we can feel the wind of change again. And to be honest, sometimes it feels more like a gale-force wind than a light breeze. These days, whenever you pick up a newspaper or watch the news on TV, you get the feeling that there are almost too many changes to handle at the same time.

Many of these crises and conflicts are happening on our very doorstep. This is even truer for Cyprus than it is for Germany. Because of its geographic location, Cyprus is more affected by these conflicts in our immediate neighbourhood than many other EU member states.

But if we take a look at current domestic policy in Cyprus, we can also feel the wind of change from another direction. And this is clearly an example of positive change. Very exciting and important things are happening there at the moment.

This was also the impression Foreign Minister Steinmeier took home from his visit to Cyprus last week. Frank-Walter Steinmeier met the leaders of both ethnic groups and religious communities. After this visit, we are more confident than ever that the window of opportunity for an agreement is wide open!

Seen against this background, today’s conference also sends a political signal to our friends in Cyprus, namely that this historical chance must not be missed! Or to stick with the metaphor: let us give the negotiations some tailwind today!

I was very happy to accept the invitation from the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung to give a short introduction on the topic this morning. I think it is particularly important to talk about Cyprus at this decisive moment in history.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The negotiations in Cyprus under the auspices of the United Nations have gained great momentum during recent weeks. The first agreement dealt with a range of issues, such as the structure of the state, the use of taxes and the question of how both ethnic groups can play an appropriate role in building political will.

Both sides now want to address the more complex issues. These include the final demarcation of the border between both entities, the election of the head of state, the question of the restitution of confiscated property, the future of people who settled in the Turkish sector after 1974, and ultimately, the withdrawal of international armed forces from Cyprus.

The main reason for my optimism is the spirit of openness, mutual trust and willingness to reach an agreement on both sides. That is why I would like to express great respect for the leaders of both ethnic groups for their commitment, courage and far-sightedness. I think we all wish them continued strength and staying power.

I would also like to pay tribute to the constructive role that the two religious leaders, Chrysostomos II, Archbishop of Cyprus, and Talip Atalay, Grand Mufti of Cyprus, are playing. I am impressed by their efforts to bring about peaceful co-existence between the different ethnic groups and religious communities in Cyprus.

They don’t see religion as a factor that separates society, but on the contrary, as a basis for dialogue and shared understanding. At a time of increasing religious conflicts in Europe and all over the world, this approach can serve as a role model.

Finally, the extremely important work of the United Nations also deserves great respect. Led by Espen Barth Eide, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Cyprus, the United Nations has literally created the “common ground” for the talks that are now going so well.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Despite all these reasons to be hopeful, there is no doubt that there is still a long way to go. Many difficult issues remain to be resolved.

Above all, the societies must be convinced of the agreement that is to be presented in a referendum. The negotiating partners will need to have a joint communication strategy in the run-up to the referendum in order to convince the public.

When we in Germany ask about our role in this process, we must first respect the fact that the progress made so far has primarily been achieved by the Cypriots themselves. Both sides are driving the talks forward. After all, it is mainly up to the Cypriots themselves to reach a successful agreement. But if our advice and support are needed, we stand ready to provide it.

In Germany, perhaps more than in other European countries, we can imagine what it means to tear down a border. We know from our own history what it means to unite two different societies legally and politically.

Just a few weeks, ago we celebrated the 25th anniversary of German reunification on 3 October 1990. We have learned some lessons in Germany, and would be happy to share them. This is why our Embassy in Nicosia, along with the Goethe-Institut and the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, has organised a series of seminars targeted at high-ranking negotiators from both sides.

We also know from our own experiences how important it is to heal the wounds of the past and to build new confidence between both sides. One example is the work of the Committee on Missing Persons in Cyprus (CMP), which is of great importance for the process of reconciliation. The Committee aims to recover the remains of people missing in action or who disappeared in 1963-64 or 1974. I visited the organisation last year and was very impressed by its work. It is of crucial importance for the entire reconciliation process.

Germany supports the CMP’s valuable work. We have provided the organisation with substantial funding once again this year. My colleagues from the German-Cypriot Parliamentary Friendship Group in the German Bundestag and I strongly supported this funding. Thank you to Achim Barchmann and Manuel Sarrazin for their great support!

Ethnic group leader Mustafa Akıncı recently announced that the Turkish army will allow excavations to take place at all 30 potential mass graves on military sites in Northern Cyprus. In my view, this is a very positive gesture. And we all know that a gesture sometimes says more than a thousand words.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We are all aware that a solution to the Cyprus question will have an impact beyond Cyprus itself. Cyprus is a factor of stability in the eastern Mediterranean. And after a successful unification. its strategic importance would even increase further.

The success we all hope to see in the UN talks would also have a positive effect on the EU’s relations with Turkey. It would lend new momentum to the talks on Turkey’s accession to the EU. We all know that the negotiations with Turkey are difficult. But Turkey is a key player in the Middle East that we cannot ignore. And we all know how much we need a coordinated approach by the EU and Turkey in order to solve the current refugee crisis.

Seen against this background, the negotiations in Cyprus are not only an internal problem. They matter to the EU as a whole. And that is why the European Union has a great interest in reaching an agreement through the talks. European Commission President Juncker and EU High Representative Mogherini visited Cyprus this summer. Commission President Juncker has also promised financial support from the EU in implementing a future agreement.

Moreover, the EU is a key player as regards implementation. The northern part of Cyprus would need support in adopting the EU acquis, which does not currently apply there. The EU has thus done well to increase staff numbers in Nicosia in order to help and advise both sides during the transitional period.

In addition to the complex political aspects involved in a solution, I believe that greater attention must also be paid to the economic and social aspects. In Germany, we know how difficult it is to merge two economies and two welfare states that were divided for decades.

International donors and investors will be needed to finance unification. But they will only get involved if the macroeconomic conditions are right. The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank have offered their expertise to help establish these conditions. I hope that we will soon see cooperation in this area, too, and I encourage the negotiating partners to take this path.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Allow me to conclude my brief introduction by underlining once again that it is very important to us in Germany that this window of opportunity for unification be used. It may be the last opportunity for quite some time.

In Germany, we have our own experiences: 26 years ago, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the process of unification took only a few months. Sometimes politicians have to act with courage and determination to seize a window of opportunity before it closes again. Perhaps the 25th anniversary of German reunification can serve as an inspiration for politicians in both parts of Cyprus. The time for a solution is now!

An agreement would also send a clear signal to the rest of Europe. These days, we are talking a lot about new walls and fences along our European borders. Wouldn’t it be great if we and the EU played a part in removing a border in Europe?

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