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Speech to the Cyprus Parliament

Human Rights - Internal Policies and EU Institutions

Mr President of the Republic
Mr President of the House of Representatives

Thank you very much for your invitation to address this House today. It is a great honour for me. I am particularly pleased to have the opportunity to speak to you shortly before what may be a decisive moment in the history of the Cypriot people.

I was born in 1955 - in post-war Germany, in a town close to where Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands meet, in a divided country. I know from my own experience how long it takes for the wounds of war to heal and what it means to grow up in a place where borders are an inescapable reality. After the war, the European unification process made it possible for West Germany to rejoin the family of European peoples. Our neighbours chose reconciliation, not retaliation. Then, when the Schengen Agreement came into force, the barriers at Europe's internal borders fell. In 1989 the spark of freedom grew into a fire of democratic revolution which spread to one Eastern European country after another. A quarter of a century ago, the eyes of the whole world were fixed on Berlin. And the whole world was a witness as courageous men and women tore down the Berlin Wall. A wall which symbolised the arbitrary division of Germany and Europe, guarded by soldiers, fortified by barbed wire, made concrete by the Wall itself, a wall of fear, across which two superpowers eyed one another as enemies; at which two political systems collided; a wall which had brutally rent families, a country, an entire continent apart. This painful division was ended by a peaceful revolution. Not one single tank rumbled through the streets. Not one single shot was fired. Not one single drop of blood was shed. A magical moment in the history of Germany and the start of a new era in Europe. Divided communities grew together once again, members of divided families fell into one another's arms. Germany grew together once again, Europe grew together once again.

A decade ago, Cyprus finally became a member of the European Union. As you know, I have always been an advocate of EU membership for Cyprus. After all, without Cyprus, Europe would not be complete - and it will only be properly complete once an undivided Cyprus is a member of the European Union.

Ladies and gentlemen,
For many years the negotiations on the reunification of Cyprus hit one stumbling block after another, and at times even seemed to have reached an impasse. A few years ago, hardly anyone would have believed that so much progress could be achieved so quickly.

In honour of that achievement, I should like to say how much I esteem and admire Mr Anastasiades, and Mr Akinci for their courage in re-launching the negotiations. For their skill in conducting the talks. And for their determination in refusing to accept the role of hostages of history, and instead working together to create a better future for all Cypriots. The walk they took together on Ledra Street in May one year ago, or the letter Mr Anastasiades sent to the Netherlands EU Council Presidency asking for Turkish to be recognised as an official language are powerful messages, powerful symbols of their constructive approach and their willingness to cooperate.

There are still obstacles to be overcome on the road to a final agreement - as the diplomats say, 'nothing is agreed until everything is agreed'. Concessions will still be required on all sides if compromises are to be achieved. But it is the big picture which counts, not the details; after all, if reunification becomes a reality, all Cypriots will benefit - politically, economically and culturally.

A few years ago, or even just a few months ago, who would have imagined that the reunification of Cyprus could be a realistic possibility? But now that it is a realistic possibility, this historic opportunity must be seized.

Dear colleagues,
This month Cyprus will leave the bail-out scheme, and I would like to congratulate you warmly on this major step.

Within the space of three years, your country has gone from the verge of financial collapse to economic recovery. Reforms have been implemented quickly, and you have made your economy more resilient by spreading risk across more sectors. I am aware that the Cypriot people made enormous efforts, and their sacrifice paid off. This is the right answer to a crisis which was the result of an unhealthy focus on one sector of the economy. The way you are modernising your economy is fully supported by the European Parliament.

Your economy is set to start growing once again. If reunification can also be achieved, this will be a magical moment for your country, and a magical moment for Europe as a whole. Today more than ever, Europe needs a message of hope, more than ever it needs an example such as that provided by Cyprus, an example which shows that political will and drive can overcome problems.

We are living in dramatic times. Europe is in permanent crisis mode. For years now, one crisis summit has followed another. It began with the start of the financial crisis, which spilled over the Atlantic from the United States, growth rates plummeted, unemployment and sovereign debt skyrocketed, the prospect of Grexit reared its ugly head, and then speculators trained their sights on the euro. We successfully defended our common currency, and our economy is recovering, albeit too slowly. Global economic prospects are not promising, however, and demand has collapsed in many newly industrialising countries. To make matters worse, violent conflicts are raging in our immediate neighbourhood: fighting continues in Ukraine, the appalling terrorist attacks in Paris, Brussels and elsewhere have been painful reminders that Daesh represents a global threat and millions of Syrians are fleeing Daesh's brutal violence and the Assad regime's bombs. In my 30 year-long political career, 2015 was the toughest year I have ever experienced.

My greatest concern is that these crises are not bringing us Europeans closer together, but are instead threatening to drive us apart. Mistrust has grown and has unleashed forces which want to reverse the progress achieved in Europe, populist forces which advocate the renationalisation of policies, which go as far as to call our democratic model into question, which are prepared to destroy the EU.

The people who want to put up new walls and fences in Europe in order to counter the influx of refugees have clearly learned nothing from history - and to think that it was only a quarter of a century ago that the Berlin Wall fell. The refugee crisis is without doubt an era-defining challenge, and in some people this challenge inspires fear. That is understandable, but fear is never a good basis for policy-making. And so I say this: let us overcome our fear, let us stop blaming one another for our problems and instead start seeking solutions together!
Realism demands that we accept at least three things if we are to develop an effective refugee policy: firstly, a crisis of this magnitude cannot be solved by nation states acting alone. But it can be solved through cooperation. Many people have criticised the outcome of the most recent EU summit. To my mind, however, it came close to being a breakthrough, because for the first time in a long time there were signs that the political will needed if we are to solve problems together does in fact exist. And: realism also demands that we acknowledge that there can be no solution without Turkey. This does not mean, however, that in return for Turkey's help we are prepared to sacrifice our values. And I would also underline, the accession process is one thing while tackling the refugees’ crisis is another.
Secondly, as long as the root causes of migration persist, people will continue to come. So far 250 000 have been killed in the war in Syria. Half the population, six million people, have fled their homes. And, no matter what some claim, anyone running from the bombs of the Assad regime and the brutality of Daesh will not be deterred by a rough sea, or by walls or fences. And so I say this: we must lend our full support to the ongoing peace negotiations under the auspices of the UN.
Thirdly, we must help Syrian refugees lead a dignified life in one of Syria's neighbouring countries and give them hope for the future. Former UNHCR Special Representative Antonio Guterres has said that a failure to provide funding was the trigger for the influx of refugees into Europe in recent months. The refugees felt abandoned by the international community. Faced with such harsh conditions, without hope, who can blame them for seeking a safe haven and a secure future in Europe? At long last, therefore, the EU governments must actually make available the money they have pledged, so that the Syrian refugees can build their own future.
Dear colleagues, Syria is, unfortunately, not the only crisis zone on our doorstep. The situation in eastern Ukraine remains worrying. Who among us could have imagined that in Europe borders could be shifted once again by force of arms? That once again in Europe people should be living in fear of war?
The crisis in Ukraine prompted an unprecedented show of foreign policy solidarity. National governments put their individual interests, their selfishness and their vanity aside and agreed on a common European approach. Thus far we have resisted all efforts to drive us apart. That is a success in itself. Because when each Member State goes it alone, we are weak; when we act together, we are strong.
If we Europeans stick together we can achieve so much. Think of the nuclear deal with Iran, or the climate agreement reached in Paris last December. No one even thought them possible. These examples must encourage us to take more responsibility on the global stage - and to stick together!
At a time when the United States is increasingly turning inwards, when Russia is challenging the global security architecture in Ukraine and Syria, when China is gaining in influence in east Asia, we Europeans must ask ourselves a question: do we want to defend our social model and our competitiveness in the era of globalisation singly, or together?
Blinkered nationalism encourages a return to an idealised vision of the nation state as an Island of the Blessed and suggests that there are easy solutions, such as ‘close the borders’ or ‘abolish the euro’, to the highly complex problems facing the world in the 21st century. But using national approaches and instruments to address what have become European problems - that is a recipe for failure.

I am convinced: if the EU falls apart, then Europe will sink into irrelevance. In the globalised 21st century, however, nation states are not isolated entities, but are in fact closely interlinked. Whether we are talking about a financial crisis, climate change or the refugee issue, we are just better off tackling these issues together.

Together, we in Europe have achieved so much: enemies have become friends, dictatorships have given way to democracies, borders have been opened, the largest and most prosperous internal market in the world has been created. We have human rights and freedom of the press and we have abolished the death penalty and child labour. We must safeguard what we have achieved, for our children and our children's children, and that should give us the courage to continue standing together, shoulder to shoulder, as Europeans.

And so I say this: if the reunification of Cyprus does become a reality, from day one the European Union will and must support the reunified country.

Thank you for your attention.

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