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Dissatisfaction by the SYRIZA MEPs on Commission΄ s Reply for Hagia Sophia urgent question

Dissatisfaction by the SYRIZA MEPs on Commission΄ s Reply for Hagia Sophia urgent question



•    SYRIZA – Progressive Alliance MEPs, sent a letter to the President of the European Parliament, Mr. David Sassoli and to the President of the European Commission, Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen
•    MEPs expressed their strong dissatisfaction after the response of the European Commission regarding the latest developments on the issue of Hagia Sophia
•    The Commission’s reply seemed to ignore the actual geographical position and inadequacy in the process of exercising parliamentary control


SYRIZA – Progressive Alliance MEPs, sent a letter to the President of the European Parliament, Mr. David Sassoli and to the President of the European Commission, Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen, expressing their strong dissatisfaction after the response of the European Commission on the urgent question under the initiative of Mr. Alexis Georgoulis, regarding the latest developments on the issue of Hagia Sophia.
In its reply, the European Commission “condemns” the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque and attributes importance to the preservation of its cultural heritage. However, the Commission responded that it “attributes great importance to the preservation of cultural heritage of the Republic of Cyprus”, a reply which seems to ignore the actual geographical position, as well as inadequacy in the process of exercising parliamentary control.
In the letter sent  to the President of the European Commission, Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen and to the President of the European Parliament, Mr. David Sassoli, SYRIZA – Progressive Alliance MEPs stated that: “The written reply offered by the European Commission exudes a certain degree of historical and geographical ignorance for the Eastern Mediterranean, which is unfortunately manifested at a tumultuous time for the region”. In addition, they highlighted that “under the article 230 TFEU the European Commission is subject to the scrutiny prerogatives of political oversight by the European Parliament and accordingly it ought to duly exercise this duty when needed in order to safeguard the institutional balance and democratic accountability of the Union”. Especially during times of great tension at the European borders that are threatening the sovereign rights of not one but two member states and bearing into account the role of the European Commission as a guardian of the Treaties and its role in ensuring “the Union’s external representation” a role clearly reserved for the institution by the article 17 TEU, SYRIZA – Progressive Alliance MEPs confirm following further inspection on the issue that their question was not merged with another.
Specifically the European Commission says:
“The Commission monitors closely the situation concerning religious and cultural monuments in the areas not under the effective control of the Republic of Cyprus and attributes great importance to the preservation of cultural heritage. Under the Aid Programme for the Turkish Cypriot community, it has provided nearly EUR 20 million since 2012 for supporting the activities of the bi-communal Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage, which include the conservation of several churches in the areas not under the effective control of the Republic of Cyprus. The EU is the largest contributor to the work of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage”, referring to the European Commission’s reply under the number: E-004286/2020 on the question: “Given that Hagia Sophia is in fact a museum, does the Commission not consider that such a course of action will merely serve to fuel religious hatred and intolerance and is scarcely fitting on the part of an applicant country that is duty-bound to respect the cultural diversity and sensitivities of all sections of its population?”

SYRIZA – Progressive Alliance MEPs request with their letter:
(A) to investigate this incident without any delay given the urgency of the matter at hand
(B) an answer to our question
(C) a statement that would rectify the situation. We strongly believe that this incident is not and should not be considered indicative for the manner the European Commission deals with parliamentary oversight and matters relating to external affairs and cultural heritage.

You can find below the letter by the SYRIZA – Progressive Alliance MEPs:
To the attention of:
Mr. David Maria Sassoli President of the European Parliament
Mrs. Ursula von der Leyen President of the European Commission

07 September 2020
Subject: Parliamentary scrutiny to the European Commission: Erroneous reply to a matter of high importance of EU-Turkey relations Esteemed President of the European Parliament
 
Mr.Sassoli, Esteemed President of the European Commission,
Mrs. von der Leyen,

We, the MEPs of SYRIZA - Progressive Alliance (GUE/NGL) are writing to you in order to bring to your attention an issue that with great regret pinpointed recently. On the 2nd of September we received a reply to an urgent written question addressed to the Commission, under the rule 138 of the Rules of Procedure of the European Parliament, the topic of which was the decision of the Turkish Republic to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque, on July 12th, 2020. The written question, which was initiated by MEP Alexis Georgoulis, sought to shed light on the impact of the conversion on culture and society. The written reply offered by EU Commissioner Mr. Olivér Várhelyi on behalf of the European Commission seemed to ignore the actual geographical position and the outstanding significance of the monument. While in the first paragraph Commissioner Várhelyi characterizes the decision of the Turkish President regrettable and detrimental to inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue, the answer continues to inform the submitters that ‘’the Commission monitors closely the situation concerning religious and cultural monuments in the areas not under the effective control of the Republic of Cyprus’’. This answer exudes a certain degree of historical and geographical ignorance for the Eastern Mediterranean, which is unfortunately manifested at a tumultuous time for the region. Under article 230 TFEU the European Commission is subject to the scrutiny prerogatives of political oversight by the European Parliament and accordingly it ought to duly exercise this duty when needed in order to safeguard the institutional balance and democratic accountability of the Union. During times of great tension at the European borders that are threatening the sovereignty and the sovereign rights of not one but two member states, such a lapse cannot but bear great repercussions. Especially when one takes into account the role of the European Commission as a guardian of the Treaties and its role in ensuring ‘’the Union’s external representation’’ a role clearly reserved for the institution by article 17 TEU. The conversion of such a monument of World Cultural Heritage – already inscribed in the List since 1985 as having Outstanding Universal Value after the application of Turkey – is a choice that significantly undermines the nature and value of the monument, that is considered to still hold many unexplored parts and undiscovered secrets. But it is also a choice with great political significance especially when viewed in conjunction to the latest developments in the greater area. The conversion of a monument that stood as a representation of interreligious dialogue and a remnant of confluence of religions within the centuries, goes against the embodiment of its symbolism for purposes that promote nationalism and radicalism. Such an egregious decision incites hatred and shows the abandonment of secularism in favour of a religious nationalism. It is therefore understood that this mistake, regardless if it was merely clerical, cannot and should not be received light-heartedly. As we have tried to look into the issue more before resorting to write this letter, we redressed to examine the matter in detail. As per Annex III of the Rules of Procedure par. 6 ‘’questions concerning related matters may be merged into a single question by the Secretariat and answered together’’. As we confirmed following further inspection our question was not merged with another. We would like to kindly request from you: (a) to investigate this incident without any delay given the urgency of the matter at hand (b) an answer to our question (c) a statement that would rectify the situation. We strongly believe that this incident is not and should not be considered indicative for the manner the European Commission deals with parliamentary oversight and matters relating to external affairs and cultural heritage.

You can find below the European Commission’s reply:
EN E-003568/2020 E-004286/2020
Answer given by Mr Várhelyi on behalf of the European Commission (2.9.2020)

As the High Representative/Vice-President underlined1 , Hagia Sophia has a strong symbolic, historical and universal value. The ruling by the Turkish Council of State to turn Hagia Sophia into a mosque as well as the Turkish President’s decision to place the monument under the management of the Religious Affairs Presidency, are regrettable. As a founding member of the Alliance of Civilisations, Turkey has committed to promoting inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue and to fostering tolerance and co-existence. The Commission monitors closely the situation concerning religious and cultural monuments in the areas not under the effective control of the Republic of Cyprus and attributes great importance to the preservation of cultural heritage. Under the Aid Programme for the Turkish Cypriot community, it has provided nearly EUR 20 million since 2012 for supporting the activities of the bi-communal Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage, which include the conservation of several churches in the areas not under the effective control of the Republic of Cyprus. The EU is the largest contributor to the work of the Technical Committee on Cultural Heritage. The Commission has repeatedly stressed, including in its latest annual report on Turkey2 , that Turkey must respect international law and good neighbourly relations and normalise relations with all EU Member States. The Commission will keep monitoring the situation and raising these concerns with the Turkish authorities.

Question of the SYRIZA – Progressive Alliance MEPs:
Question for written answer E-004286/2020/rev.1 to the Commission Rule 138
Alexis Georgoulis (GUE/NGL), Konstantinos Arvanitis (GUE/NGL), Petros Kokkalis (GUE/NGL), Elena Kountoura (GUE/NGL), Stelios Kouloglou (GUE/NGL)
Subject: Urgent question for the Commission regarding events surrounding Hagia Sophia
Hagia Sophia, a beacon of interfaith dialogue, is now being unceremoniously converted into a mosque. This incomparably beautiful architectural masterpiece, which has come to symbolise the synergy between Europe and Asia through the centuries, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1985. Not only is this an unprecedented affront to an edifice that has been an outstanding feature of Constantinople/Istanbul for around 1 500 years, but it is also a breach of the UNESCO conventions, for which Turkey will be called to account by the international community. As well as being an inadmissible act in itself that has already been condemned by UNESCO itself and by Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, it also has a profound political significance. This and a number of similar incidents provide growing evidence of attempts by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President of the Republic of Turkey, to progressively impose an Islamic agenda and do away with the secular state founded by Kemal Ataturk. In view of this: 1. What measures will the Commission take to prevent this inadmissible decision being implemented and ensure that the edifice is preserved as an essentially cultural monument? 2. Given that Hagia Sophia is in fact a museum, does the Commission not consider that such a course of action will merely serve to fuel religious hatred and intolerance and is scarcely fitting on the part of an applicant country that is duty-bound to respect the cultural diversity and sensitivities of all sections of its population?

SYRIZA – Progressive Alliance MEPs:
Dimitiris Papadimoulis
Alexis Georgoulis
Kostas Arvanitis
Petros Kokkalis
Stelios Kouloglou
Elena Kountoura



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