Monday, 24 January 2011
A visit to be remembered: Angela Merkel in Cyprus
JUDGED by its symbolic importance and results, the visit of the German Chancellor Angela Merkel to Cyprus was not only historic, but also a resounding success. It took place at a critical juncture of the Cyprus problem, just before the Christofias-Eroglu meeting with the UN Secretary-General in Geneva and just after the recent Papandreou-Erdogan encounter in Erzerum, with its contradictory messages as a result of the on-going conflict between the deep state and the islamists of Erdogan’s AKP.
The repercussions of her visit were felt on three levels – the local, the regional and the international. Within the local framework, when a big country like Germany, of a great international, political and economic calibre, meets small Cyprus not only are bilateral relations strengthened, but also the authority and sovereignty of the Republic. This visit at the highest level also shows Germany’s increased interest in the Cyprus problem and the island’s division, since Germany itself bitterly experienced division for many years.
As the German Ambassador to Cyprus, Dr Gottfried Zeitz put it: “from the bottom of our hearts, we strongly support all endeavours in this country to come to a good solution and overcome this intolerable division of the country”. In actual fact Chancellor Merkel clearly stated that she greatly appreciates the courage, creativity and initiative shown by President Christofias to solve the Cyprus problem and that the many steps taken by him have not been matched by the Turkish side. She recognised the president’s readiness to compromise and offered her support to his chosen path. In this respect, she pledged to use her contacts with Turkish officials to promote Christofias’ efforts for a solution.
The meeting with the president of opposition party DISY, Nicos Anastasiades, sent its own message. In the first place, it attached due importance to the positions of the opposition concerning the Cyprus problem. They were explained in detail, with emphasis on the role expected to be played by the EU. Secondly, the meeting expressed the close cooperation which exists between Merkel’s Christian Democrats and DISY within the framework of the European Popular Party, which consistently supports the positions of our side.
On a regional level, Turkey-EU relations in connection with the Cyprus problem were touched upon, giving our national issue a European dimension as well. The non-compliance of Turkey with the provisions of the Protocol of Ankara prompted Merkel to refer to the obstacles to Turkey’s EU accession path and to the fact that no chapter has been closed so far. Germany, however, is in favour of the continuation of Turkey’s negotiations, irrespective of the form the accession process will take. Being open-ended, this process might in the end result in a privileged relationship, since Berlin is not ready to accept discounts in this respect. Merkel’s reference to the good cooperation between Germany and Cyprus at the European level considerably strengthens Cyprus’ hand within the EU and at the same time proves, as Ambassador Zeitz mentioned in his press conference, that the inclusion of Cyprus in the EU was no mistake. Concerning the cooperation between NATO and the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy, which is hampered by Turkey’s refusal to allow the EU in NATO meetings because of Cyprus, Merkel said that Germany wanted to help strengthen this cooperation but stressed that to untangle this issue, the Cyprus problem must be resolved.
Finally, within the international framework, the meeting with the UN special adviser Alexander Downer and UN Special representative Liza Buttenheim places the Cyprus problem on its natural level and at the same time acquires particular importance, since Germany is for the next two years non-permanent member of the UN Security Council and rightfully aspires to become one day a permanent member of this executive organ of the UN. Guided by the two UN officials, Merkel got the chance to see the divided capital from the rooftop of the Ledra Palace Hotel and could sense the physicality of partition, as no other leader has done so far.
The visit was successful beyond expectations for Cyprus and its Government, and its importance is measured by the size of the Turkish reactions. It has also projected Chancellor Merkel as a towering figure, which defends universal principles with courage, confirming in this way the protagonistic role of her country in world affairs.