Ambassador Evriviades Speaks with Embassy Newsweekly
Embassy , December 1st, 2004
By Peter Schneider
Talking About A New Beginning
When you change the context, you change the problem,' Cyprus HC says High Commissioner for Cyprus, Euripides Evriviades, is stationed in Washington, D.C., but was in Ottawa Nov. 22 to present his credentials to the Governor-General. While in the city, he met with Embassy to discuss a range of current issues affecting Cyprus, Turkey, and the European Union.
Q: You're accredited as Cyprus' ambassador to the United States, and as non-resident high commissioner to Canada. How much time will you devote to Canada?
A: I don't like side accreditations. I don't like the fact that we don't have a high commission here in Ottawa, because I don't think side accreditations do justice to the web of bilateral relations that we have with Canada, or the regional aspect, now that Cyprus is a member of the European Union. I do not like it. This is a poor man's representation, and I expect to come here as often as I possibly can. There are close to 35,000 Cypriots in Canada, and they rightly complain that I do not pay enough attention to them. I have every intention to cover this vacuum.
Q: What are your thoughts on the events of this year, and the unsuccessful bid to reunify Cyprus through a UN referendum?
A: It was a year of celebration, because Cyprus did enter the European Union. I want to underline that this, strategically, is the most important development for Cyprus since achieving independence in 1960. That was a cause to celebrate. There are challenges and opportunities that come with EU membership, and it will cement the bilateral relations between Cyprus and Canada, because Cyprus is now part of the Trans-Atlantic dialogue. 2004 was also a frustrating year, because unfortunately the referendum that was presented on April 24 was rejected by 76.7 per cent of the Cypriot community of Greek ethnic background, which form 80 per cent of the population. Unfortunately the plan that was presented was not such that the people could embrace it. The accession of Cyprus took place as a divided country, and we are the ones who do not like it the most. We have to live with the situation every day. It affects our daily lives.
Q: Will Cyprus be voting in support of Turkey's application to start negotiations with the EU on December 17?
A: It's the 60,000 dollar question: What will Cyprus' position be on the 17th of December? Frankly, I do not know. The jury is still out on what the final position will be, as indeed is the case with a number of countries in the European Union. These decisions are being debated and negotiated until the eleventh hour. What I can say, is that fundamentally, Turkey's accession to the European Union is in our strategic interest. We are a very small country; we have had a troubled relationship with Turkey, which to this day does not recognize Cyprus. At the same time we are not prisoners of the past, and in the European Union there is a fundamentally new strategic context. We want Turkey to enter the EU, but there should be no discounts to the Copenhagen criteria. It is not the European Union that is applying to join Turkey, it is Turkey joining the European Union. Consequently, Turkey has to meet all its obligations to each and every one of the 25 members of the EU, including Cyprus. We don't like the fact that Turkey keeps blocking our accession to several regional organizations, including the OECS, and the fact that Turkey does not recognize Cyprus or allow our merchant shipping fleet, which is the sixth-largest in the world, to enter Turkish ports. These are now European Union ships. Our civilian aircraft are not permitted in Turkish airspace. All these things are major concerns of ours, which will have to fall into place.
Q: How do you think reunification of Cyprus might come about?
A: I would like to use a metaphor. We have a car, which is called Cyprus, and we want to reach a final destination. That final destination is a viable, long-lasting solution to the Cyprus question, so that all the citizens of Cyprus can enjoy the fruits of the European Union. You've got to look at the rearview mirror, to make sure nobody's coming up to hit you. But if you keep constantly looking at the rearview mirror, for sure you will never reach your destination and you will have a crash. Without being prisoners of the past, it is fundamentally good for our interests to have Turkey in the process of joining the European Union, and finally joining the European Union, because then that is a predictable Turkey, that is not in an identity crisis,that will not solve problems by force or the threat of the use of force. We're talking about a new beginning for the people of Cyprus, for the bilateral relationship between Cyprus and Turkey, and for the greater stability of the Eastern Mediterranean. As you know, it is of cardinal importance for the security of the West.
Q: How does EU membership change the equation?
A: At the end of the day there has to be reconciliation and rapprochement. Geography is destiny. One of the things the EU does is solve problems by embracing them. If the European Union manages to unify a divided continent, if it managed to bring together the French and the Germans, I'm sure they will do it for Cyprus and Turkey, for the benefit of world peace, stability, and security. Since April of 2003, in a country of less than one million people, four million visits have taken place across the dividing line, incident-free. I think that speaks volumes about what the people yearn for and what they want the leadership to do. This is the message that we should listen to. Cyprus should serve the interests of Cypriots, all Cypriots, and not the interests of any other country.
Q: You're posted to Washington, D.C. as ambassador. The U.S. is strongly in favour of admitting Turkey to the EU. Have you been lobbied to support Turkey's bid?
A: Absolutely, and on more than one occasion. The American administration hasn't made any secret about it. At the same time, we are one of the smallest members of the EU, and the fact is that everybody has to say 'yes'. The Cyprus-Turkey relationship within the European Union is one small part. The dialogue between Brussels and Ankara doesn't have to do only with Cyprus. What scares many Europeans is the sheer size of the country. When Turkey joins the EU, operating from that assumption, it will be the largest member of the EU. What does that do to the decision making process of the EU? What would that do to the structural funds? These are the questions that are being discussed right now, and there should be an educated debate: the European Union educating itself and its citizens about what's going on with Turkey, and vice versa.