Row Breaks Out Between Cypriot, British MEPs
Cyprus' EU presidency got off to a rocky start after a row broke out between Cypriot MEP Yiannis Kassoulides and British MEP Graham Watson in the European Parliament in the wake of Watson's criticism of 'corrupt Cypriot lawyers and property developers who rob holiday homebuyers of their retirement savings.'
President Demetris Christofias had just finished presenting Cyprus' priorities for its term in the EU rotating presidency, when Watson said: "President Christofias, your country cannot lead the European Union by its size or strength, so you must lead by example...Use the EU influence to reunify Cyprus people...Lead by example in europe's fight against crime, intervene against the intricate intrigue of corrupted Cypriot lawyers and property developers...Lead by example in other areas too, not by letting a fossil fuel find fool you into forgetting your island's natural wealth of sun and wind. Not by being mortgaged to Moscow nor by evading engagement with Ankara."
MEP Kassoulides responded: "Mister Watson...don't you think that by addressing this criticism to a Presidency that has not even started, it's not objective and fair?...Particularly, when this criticism is coming from you, who represents a country that has been a colonial power that bears part of the responsibility of the island, with the policy of 'Divide and Rule'?"
German Green party MEP Rebecca Harms said: "In Cyprus I'm fully aware of the structural problems with the banking and finance sector, Cyprus also has to work on fair taxes, tax havens, tax flights, tax avoidance; your Presidency will be something you can only get through if you tackle these issues as well."
Britain is a close ally of Turkey, which has occupied Cyprus since 1974, and the island's complex domestic drama is now playing centre stage in the EU's institutions.
The notoriously thin-skinned Christofias was not pleased at the criticism, only breaking his boot-faced stare at Watson with a sardonic smile when the MEP referred to Cyprus being 'mortgaged' to Russia.
The UK has had military bases in Cyprus since the 1960 treaty of independence from the British Empire, but they remain unpopular and their presence is constantly questioned by the government. The main bone of contention is that Britain does not pay 'rent' on the land it uses for its airbase at Akrotiri and army bases at Dekhelia and Episkopi.
Perhaps the irony of a British MEP criticising Cyprus for borrowing money from Moscow, while Britain effectively runs its bases rent-free, tickled Christofias' funny bone. One should also never forget the background of the island's second round of offshore oil and gas exploration licenses; both British and Russian firms have submitted tenders for Cyprus' remaining plots, thought to contain rich reserves of fossil fuels. Perhaps Christofias' smile was more about his own satisfaction that valuable licensing rights are being fought over by the world's great powers.
Cyprus discovered trillions of cubic feet of natural gas in just one of its plots, ensuring its own supply for the foreseeable future and resulting in a strong relationship with Israel, which includes plans to supply the EU with gas via a pipeline running from the Eastern Mediterranean through to Greece.
But this scenario is resisted by Turkey, which has grown quarrelsome over offshore oil and gas exploration and has sent warships into Cyprus waters, threatening exploration efforts by foreign companies licensed by the government.
An aggrieved Watson commented after the debate via Twitter, saying: "All I said was they should lead by example! And they should!"
He is not the first or the last foreign political figure to have fallen foul of the political complexities swirling around Cyprus.
Video: Copyright EC Audiovisual Services.
Message from CyprusNewsReport.com. We can't do it without your help. Please support our independence so we can keep bringing you high-quality, free news from Cyprus and the region.
To make and read comments, become a full member of your news community, click here.