The Chronicle of the case of Famagusta before the Petitions Committee
Following a series of consultations among Members of the European Parliament, belonging to various political groupings, including the Cypriot MEPs and the Municipality of Famagusta, the question of the return of Famagusta was inscribed on the agenda for discussion by the Plenary in Strasbourg in November 2006. The discussion was held in the presence of former Enlargement Commissioner Olie Rehn on the basis of a question submitted by Cypriot MEP Panayiotis Demetriou. Many members of the Parliament took the floor and expressed support for the demand of the Famagusta inhabitants to return to their city. Commissioner Rehn confined himself to linking the return of Famagusta with the unacceptable direct trade regulation between the European Union and northern part of Cyprus.
In March 2007 an attempt made at the Petitions Committee to close the issue of Famagusta- with the argument that by the discussion before the Plenary the whole issue had been exhausted- was averted. Thanks to the intervention of former Cypriot MEPs Panayiotis Demetriou and Yiannakis Matsis as well as of Greek former MEP Manolis Mavrommatis and foreign parliamentarians, the proposal for the petition to remain open was adopted and a decision was taken to examine it at a future session. The Petitions Committee included the Petition by the inhabitants of Famagusta in its Agenda of 26 June 2007. The Mayor of Famagusta Alexis Galanos was invited to attend the meeting and to present before the committee the two big volumes with the 26,000 signatures by Famagusta residents who demand the immediate return to their ancestral homes. During his stay in Strasbourg, the Mayor had a meeting with the former President of the European Parliament Hans-Gert Poettering and other members of the European Parliament from various political groups and briefed them on the existing situation in Famagusta and on the drama of its displaced inhabitants.
As a result of the above consultations, in September 2007 a proposal was tabled officially for a visit by a Fact Finding Mission to Famagusta. The proposal was approved and the Committee decided to pay a visit to Famagusta in November 2007. The Fact Finding Mission of the Petitions Committee visited Cyprus on 26-29 November 2007, with the participation of the Polish President of the Committee Martin Libiski, Spanish MEP of the European People’s Party Carlos Iturgaiz, Polish MEP of the Party of European Socialists Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg and Spanish MEP of the European United Left Willy Meyer Pleite. The Turkish Army did not allow MEPs to enter the fenced area. As a result of the visit, the first draft of the relevant report circulated in 2008, causing unpleasant feelings to all concerned. Arbitrary conclusions and recommendations on the Cyprus problem were made in the report, while as far as Famagusta was concerned, the report made the return of the city dependent on unspecified things in exchange, and said that it should not be returned before a comprehensive solution to the Cyprus problem is found. Following various moves by foreign MEPs, in collaboration with Cypriot MEPs, the President of the Petitions Committee Libiski changed tune and undertook to write a new document which would be in line with international law and the just struggle of Famagusta inhabitants for return to their city.
In June 2008 the three MEPs who participated in the Fact Finding Mission reached agreement on a common text so that the issue may close without any friction. The two texts were put to vote at the meeting of the Petitions Committee on 16 July 2008. The report of the three MEPs was adopted with 18 votes in favour and only two against. The text adopted was a moral victory and satisfied all displaced inhabitants as it asked for the immediate return of Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants even before a solution to the Cyprus problem is found and provided for the mobilization of the Slovak and the French Presidency of the EU in this direction. The provisions of the initial draft of the President of the Petitions Committee were deleted.
When a new closing of the case of Famagusta by the Petitions Committee was attempted on 31 March 2009, Cypriot MEP Panayiotis Demetriou intervened and succeeded in preventing the closing the case of Famagusta and in having the case reexamined once again under the new composition of the European Parliament as from September 2009.
Delegations of the Famagusta Municipality, headed by the Mayor, at regular intervals visited Brussels where it had contacts with MEPs, diplomats and senior officers of the EU Commission, supplying them with enlightenment material on the current situation in Famagusta. At the same time it made sure, through various press conferences at the European Parliament, that Cypriot and foreign journalists are kept informed on the issue of Famagusta.
With the new composition of the European Parliament, Italian MEP Erminia Mazzoni was elected as President of the Petitions Committee. The Petitions Committee chaired by Mazzoni invited the Mayor of Famagusta to inform the newly formed Committee on the current situation in Famagusta.
The MEPs who participated in the Fact Finding Mission to Famagusta and who continue to be members of the Petitions Committee, i.e. Spanish MEP of the European People’s Party Carlos Iturgaiz and Polish MEP of the Party of European Socialists Lidia Geringer de Oedenberg, and who drafted the approved report, taking the floor, pointed out the fact that in the report of the Petitions Committee adopted in July 2008, the European Parliament “ asked Turkey to withdraw its occupation troops from the Republic of Cyprus, returning the fenced city of Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants”. They recalled that the report stressed that the problem should have been solved in 2008 and “until this day nothing was done in this direction”. The two MEPs denounced this passive attitude.
Taking the floor, Famagusta Mayor Galanos pointed out that the return of the fenced city of Famagusta to its lawful inhabitants would be a positive contribution to the efforts for a comprehensive settlement, emphasizing the responsibilities of the European Union in this direction, as Famagusta and all the northern part of the island, is European land under occupation. He also requested the following:
- The report on Famagusta should be given once more to all the members of Petitions Committee and all the members of the European Union, as many of the members of the Petitions Committee are newly elected and should be informed about the issue.
- The report should be sent to the EU Commission which should be asked in writing if it has changed it stand. Previously the Commission had adopted the view that the fenced city of Famagusta could be returned with a solution of the Cyprus problem.
- The report should be conveyed by the Petitions Committee to the Spanish Presidency of the EU, which started on 1.1.2010 in order to make a careful review of the whole issue.
- Finally, he called on the new President of the Petitions Committee Erminia Manzoni to visit Famagusta during the year.
The Petitions Committee decided to ask of the European Commission to brief it in writing about the current situation in Famagusta and address a letter to the Spanish Presidency, drawing its attention to the situation in Famagusta and also attaching the report of the Fact Finding Mission of 2007. The President of the Petitions Committee sent to the Spanish Presidency a relevant letter in January 2010.
In February 2010 Mayor Galanos had a meeting in Brussels with the President of the Petitions Committee Erminia Manzoni, who briefed him on the content of the letter she addressed to the Spanish Presidency, which raises the well known request of Famagusta inhabitants for international experts to be allowed to enter the fenced city and carry out a study for the reconstruction of the city. The Mayor also discussed with Manzoni the possibility of her paying a visit to Cyprus in May with the exclusive aim of reviewing further the report on Famagusta and of arranging a new fact finding mission of the Petitions Committee in the period June-July 2010.