The Economist 12th Cyprus Summit
Europe in Peril, Cyprus in Play
by Fikri Toros……President of the TC Chamber of Commerce
On behalf of the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce, it is indeed an honour for me to address such a distinguished audience. I would like to extend my heartfelt appreciation to The Economist for the excellent organization and to John Georgoulas for giving me and President Pilides the opportunity to take part on this second consecutive year.
Indeed, Europe has never faced so many serious challenges simultaneously. Slowing economies, financial inequality and unemployment, along with an unprecedented refugee crisis, not to mention the global security threat of terror, led to deep anxieties and fear amongst the citizens of Europe. This resulted in the rise of nationalism, which has been successfully capitalizing on divisive concepts of nativism, virulent nationalism, xenophobia and protectionism…“World peace cannot be safeguarded without the making of creative efforts proportionate to the dangers which threaten it.” These words of Robert Schuman in his declaration made whilst laying the foundation of today’s European Union have never been more valid than now; not only for the EU itself; but also for the settlement process of the long standing Cyprus conflict.
Increasingly, we are witnessing the growing support for calls to close the borders, ban immigration and revolts against economic openness. These are developments leading to a serious cause for concern as they are presenting an existential threat to the hard-earned post war liberal European values.
What should be done about it?….
The discontented citizens do have legitimate concerns about the consequences of globalization such as immigration and security threat; and these concerns must be addressed. However, much of the criticism on the EU is misguided by deliberately downplaying its benefits and by overseeing the genuine causes.
The solution is not to dismantle the Union, nor is it to stop free trade; but to undertake the necessary reforms to make the EU more operational. Viable and sustainable solutions to these multi dimensional challenges can only be found by increasing the bond and cooperation amongst the member states.
In regards to free trade, which enables broad opportunities and prosperity across the world ; the right approach is to tackle the concerns of those losing out from it by adopting the appropriate policies.
Ever since the founding of the EU, member states have been benefiting enormously from the fundamental freedoms. Peace, democracy, prosperity and the world’s largest single market created should not be allowed to be taken for granted and must be promoted to the European citizens. The EU together with its values and principles must be protected irrespective of any cost. This is indispensable not only for the prosperity and security of Europe but for those of the world too.
Much is at stake also, if the ongoing efforts to end the Cyprus Conflict fail once again, continuation of the status quo will deprive our Island and the entire vicinity of its full economic potential, defying the fundamental motives of globalisation; not to mention those of the EU. It will lead to the rise of nationalism and populism on the Island and exacerbate instability by letting the energy reserves aggravate tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean.
The two Leaders have been engaged in intensive negotiations for the last 18 months and have made significant progress. Whilst encouraging convergences on the majority of issues have been reached, there are still divergences on some others which are highly sensitive to both Communities. Nevertheless, the current momentum must be sustained and the remaining time must be utilized to find a common ground along our shared commitment.
Whilst the main onus of reaching a comprehensive settlement lies upon the two leaders, in the end it will be the two Communities who will make peace and hopefully make it last. Countries have an average 40% risk of return to conflict within the immediate decade after a peace agreement is reached. Therefore, this very challenging task cannot be left to be shouldered by politicians alone. The involvement and support of the civil society is absolutely imperative too.
Furthermore considering that the driving force of this process is predominantly economic prospects, the intersection of business and politics needs to become more increasingly developed under the direction of the two Chambers.
The primary means of global peace-promotion by business leaders is through economic development and community building. Mindful of this, we have been striving to promote economic cooperation under the prevailing state of affairs, aiming to erode the negative effects of the status quo by improving everyday living conditions and by making the economic benefits of partnership visible…
Three specific areas where I believe the two Chambers can and should deliver more;
Persistent cooperation with the Leaders towards the realization of the pending confidence building measures, such as the interoperability of mobile phone operators, the crossing of Turkish Cypriot commercial vehicles to the South, broadening of intra-island trade and the finalisation of the PDO registration of Hellim/Halloumi.
The Chambers should open a more effective channel of communication with the two Leaders and their negotiating teams. The aim of this would be to influence the required legal and regulatory framework, to become in sufficient command of the agreement to objectively prepare the business communities, and to be in a position to encourage our leaders to find a common ground on the divergences.
The Turkish Cypriot Community will not go through the typical accession negotiation process, thus the task of preparing the Turkish Cypriot economy will necessitate a tailor made procedure. In addition to the European financial aid and technical tools , KEBE’s support and assistance in the preparation of the private sector to the Acquis, will no doubt be instrumental.
Ladies and gentlemen,
All stakeholders concerned need to demonstrate their visionary and constructive leadership to empathize, compromise and take courageous steps forward to a just and viable settlement. This is a historic responsibility that we owe to our country, our people and younger generations.
As late Shimon Perez said in 2013, there are two things that cannot be made without closing your eyes,: “love and peace. If you try to make them with open eyes, you won’t get anywhere.”
Thank you for your attention; I look forward to listening to your comments and taking your questions.
This speech was made at the Hilton Park Nicosia Hotel, Nicosia, Cyprus on 1st November 2016 by Fikri Toros, the President of the Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce.