The UK Foreign Secretary and Minister for Europe have highlighted Turkey’s obligation to open its ports to Cypriot vessels.
In letters addressed to north London Conservative MPs, Philip Hammond and David Lidington state that “as part of its EU accession process, Turkey is obligated under the Ankara Protocol to open its ports to Cypriot vessels – something it has yet to do.”
As they note, “the UK continues to urge Turkey to meet all the conditions for its accession including on this issue, and will continue to do so.”
The two letters were sent as replies to Theresa Villiers and Matthew Offord respectively, who had written to Mr Hammond in order to convey their Cypriot constituents’ concern over Turkey’s refusal to accept vessels with a Cypriot flag or any other link to Cyprus in its ports, in violation of the Ankara Protocol.
The two Conservative politicians were also noting the concern of George Mouskas, President of the Cyprus Union of Shipowners, who has had a meeting with the Head of the Foreign Office’s Eastern Mediterranean Team in order to get briefed on the UK’s position on the matter.
Messrs Hammond and Lidington state in their letters that they agree with the notion that the opening up of ports in Turkey to Cypriot shipping “could bring economic benefits for both countries”; a point, as they note, which was highlighted by President Anastasiades on 8 July, when he spoke of the increased financial benefits a settlement would have, not just for Cyprus, but for the region.
“Ultimately, the best way to resolve this issue is to secure a reunited Cyprus through a just and lasting settlement The UK continues to support strongly the UN-led process, and the efforts of the two communities towards that end,” conclude the British Foreign Office political heads.
Before the two MPs letters, Foreign Secretary Hammond had received a comprehensive exposition of the Cypriot shipping industry’s concerns regarding Turkey’s stance by Mr Mouskas.
The Cyprus Union of Shipowners President had noted in his letter that “Turkey does need to fulfil certain minimum responsibilities toward the European Union, one of which is the lifting of the embargo and eventually the recognition of the Republic of Cyprus.”
Mr Mouskas had expressed the Union’s members’ belief that Turkey’s membership of the European Union would be a good thing in general, as it would allow a large economy to trade as a full European Member. “This would help in expanding world trade, which is always good for shipping. However, if this is to happen, then Turkey has to meet its obligations and lift the embargo on Cyprus Flag vessels, so that we truly have free trade within Europe, which at the moment we do not,” stated the Cypriot shipowner.
Finally, he had called upon Philip Hammond, in his capacity as a Foreign Secretary of a country who has strong and friendly relations with Turkey, that he used his influence to, at least as a first step, persuade Turkey to lift the illegal embargo on Cyprus flag ships – something that would constitute a gesture of goodwill towards a comprehensive settlement.