Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said Tuesday (15 March) that his country will not accept the European Union’s migration deal with Turkey without concessions from Ankara in the dispute over the Mediterranean island.
A refusal of the migrant-swap deal would effectively block the largest diplomatic push yet to ease Europe’s burden of accommodating hundreds of thousands of refugees, many of whom enter the EU through Turkey.
“Cyprus does not intend to consent to the opening of any new chapters if Turkey does not fulfil its obligations,” Anastasiades said after talks with European Council President Donald Tusk, who said “the key question of legality” still needed to be sorted out for the deal.
Tusk, who headed to Ankara for talks ahead of negotiations on the EU-Turkey proposal after meeting Anastasiades, admitted “we are not there yet” in terms of a deal.
“The Turkish proposal… still needs to be rebalanced so as to be accepted by all 28 member states and the EU institutions,” he told reporters.
EU and Turkish leaders agreed last week to a tentative proposal including the return of migrants landing in Greece and a “one-for-one” swap of Syrian refugees.
Cyprus has expressed reservations, not least as Turkey expects the accord to lead to the opening of new chapters in Ankara’s longstanding EU membership bid and ease visa requirements in Europe’s passport-free Schengen area.
Anastasiades said Cyprus would not accept “the Turkish demands without (the) implementation of Turkey’s long-pending obligations” in its EU membership bid.
The island of Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkish troops invaded its northern sector in response to an Athens-engineered coup attempt.
Turkey does not recognise the government of Cyprus and Nicosia has blocked six key chapters of Ankara’s negotiations for EU membership since 2009, effectively halting the process.
Cyprus insists Turkey must first meet its longstanding demands for recognition, and to open up trade ties, ports and airports.
EU leaders meet in Brussels on Thursday and Friday in an attempt to thrash out the agreement, which was first mooted on 8 March.
Leaked draft conclusions for the summit said that leaders agree to the “the use of all means to support Greece’s return of irregular migrants to Turkey”.
But the conclusions must be agreed by the European leaders. That looked less likely after the Czech Republic accused Turkey of “blackmailing” the EU with demands for extra cash to curb the flow of refugees and migrants to member state Greece.
Under a deal clinched in November, the EU has already pledged €3 billion to aid refugees on Turkish territory in return for Ankara’s cooperation in tackling the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.
But European Parliament head Martin Schulz said last week that Ankara wanted an extra €3 billion.
“The EU’s original proposal to Turkey was for €3 billion, now Turkey is asking €6 billion and there is talk… of about up to €20 billion,” Czech President Milos Zeman said following talks with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda in Prague.
“Impolite people like myself call that blackmail,” the 71-year-old veteran leftwinger told reporters.
Known for anti-migrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, the outspoken Zeman dubbed the surge in refugee numbers “an organised invasion” of Europe and called for the deportation of economic migrants and suspected terrorists.
France will tell Turkey at a summit with the EU this week it wants more effective cooperation with Ankara on the migrant crisis, but will warn against any attempt at “blackmail”, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls also said today.
Dublin reform pushed back
Brussels had been set on Wednesday to unveil proposals to change the so-called Dublin regulations, which state that migrants must seek asylum in the EU member state in which they first arrive.
Leaders urged the Commission to push back plans to overhaul the bloc’s asylum system until next month, after the crunch summit this week.
European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said Commissioners would discuss the new asylum rules on Wednesday but would “then set out a strategic vision of possible reform options on 6 April.”
EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos on Tuesday urged the bloc to “scale up” a scheme to share out thousands of refugees among member states that has struggled to get off the ground.
“We have adopted all together a relocation mechanism that must work immediately. So I call on member states to provide us with more pledges and start implementing immediately this plan,” Avramopoulos said.
His remarks were made during a visit to the squalid camp of Idomeni on the Greek-Macedonian border where over 14,000 refugees have been trapped for weeks.
“Our target is to be in a position to relocate 6,000 people (per month),” Avramopoulos said.
So far, the numbers of refugees relocated from Italy and Greece and shared out among the bloc have only been in the hundreds, a drop in the ocean compared to the planned 160,000.
With Macedonia slamming shut its border last week in line with similar decisions taken by fellow Balkan states, the border area has become increasingly packed with the camp and surrounding area turned into a quagmire following days of heavy rain.
“The situation here is tragic,” Avramopoulos said, indicating that a third of the people stranded at Idomeni were children.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974 despite repeated efforts under the auspices of the UN to bring the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to the negotiating table.
Hopes for reunification were raised in 2002 when then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan suggested a two-part federation with a rotating presidency.
In an April 2004 referendum, the Greek Cypriots rejected - and the Turkish Cypriots approved - a UN-sponsored unity plan. The plan's failure disappointed EU officials, who had agreed to allow Cyprus to join the EU that year partly in the hope that doing so would encourage a solution. In May 2004, the Greek Cypriot-controlled Republic of Cyprus became a full member of the EU.
At their December 2004 summit, EU leaders agreed to open accession talks with Turkey on 3 October 2005. One of the conditions specified was for Ankara to extend a 1963 association agreement with the EU's predecessor, the European Economic Community, to the Union's 10 new member states. This group included the Greek Cypriot state, which is not recognised by Turkey.
In July 2005, Turkey signed a protocol extending its customs union to the EU-10 states, but at the same time Ankara issued a declaration saying that its signature did not mean it had recognised the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey also refused to open its ports and airports to Cyprus, as it claims the EU has fallen short of having direct trade with the unrecognised northern part of the island.
17 March: European Council