Commission discrete on ‘secret negotiations’ with Turkey

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A European Commission spokesperson said today (8 November) she was unable to confirm media reports about "secret negotiations" aimed at unblocking Turkey's accession talks, in which Enlargement Commissioner Štefan Füle reportedly played a central role.

Over the last two weeks, the EU and Turkey have been conducting secret negotiations aimed at putting into practice the so-called Ankara Protocol from 2005.

Reportedly, this would allow the EU to unblock some of the accession chapters frozen as a result of Ankara's refusal to admit ships and aircraft from the Republic of Cyprus to Turkish ports and airports (see 'Background').

The main actor in the negotiations is Štefan Füle, reports Turkish newspaper Milliyet, describing a strategy of "mutual concessions".

The scenario described would see Turkey open one or more of its ports to ships from the Republic of Cyprus. In exchange, one or more EU countries would start flights to Ercan airport on the territory of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is recognised only by Ankara.

On this basis, the negotiation talks could be unblocked, Milliyet writes.

The reports in the Turkish press are "interesting" and sound "like a spy novel," Angela Filote, Füle's spokesperson, told the Brussels press today. Pressed by questions, she basically said she had no personal knowledge of whether the talks described by Milliyet had actually taken place. But she did not deny the reports either.

Press reports seem to coincide with earlier statements by Turkish high officials.

Speaking to EURACTIV recently, Turkey's chief negotiator Egemen Ba??? said his country would open its ports and airports "tomorrow" if the European Council decision of April 2004 were implemented.

"If Spanish, Dutch, German and French planes land at Ercan airport [in Northern Cyprus], if other European ships unload containers in Northern Cyprus, then Greek Cypriot planes and vessels are welcome to come," Ba??? said.

Cyprus has also indicated some flexibility. The country's president, Demetris Christofias, outlined a proposal on 11 October that could speed up the island's reunification talks by opening the port of Famagusta, which is now a ghost city, to international trade.

According to Milliyet, EU leaders meeting in Brussels on 16-17 December will take decisions concerning the unblocking of Turkey's accession bid. The worst-case scenario, the daily writes, would see Turkey's negotiations remain completely blocked over the Ankara Protocol.

The division of Cyprus represents one of the most difficult issues affecting EU-Turkey relations, with the future of Turkey's accession talks hinging on the successful resolution of the problem.

Despite repeated efforts under the auspices of the UN to bring the leaders of the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities to the negotiating table, the island has remained divided since 1974. 

Hopes were raised in 1992 when UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented a reunification plan, suggesting a two-part federation with a rotating presidency. 

In April 2004, the Greek Cypriots rejected and the Turkish Cypriots approved in a referendum a UN-sponsored unity plan known as the Annan Plan. The plan's failure disappointed EU officials, who had agreed to allow Cyprus to join that year partly in the hope that doing so would encourage a solution to the Cyprus problem. 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 ten new member states. This group includes 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 claimed the EU had fallen short of having direct trade with the unrecognised northern part of the island.

In the Turkish accession negotiations so far, only one chapter (science and research) has been provisionally closed. Eleven more have been opened, but eight remain blocked over Turkey's failure to implement the Ankara Protocol, which states that access should be granted and ports opened to vessels from the Republic of Cyprus.

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