Merkel, Erdo?an cross swords on Cyprus

Cyprus map.jpg

German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed support yesterday (25 February) for opening a new chapter in Turkey’s paralised EU accession talks, but crossed swords with Ankara on the deadlock surrounding divided Cyprus.

Merkel, on a visit to Turkey, said she had hesitations over Turkey's full membership in the European Union but said the entry process should nevertheless be kept "on track."

"We want the process to advance, despite the fact that I have hesitations concerning Turkey's full European Union membership," said Merkel, quoted by Deutsche Welle. "We are conducting negotiations whose outcome is open-ended, that is to say the results are not known."

Merkel also insisted that Turkey implement the Ankara Protocol of 2005, which extends the customs union with Turkey to newer EU states, including Cyprus (see background).

“We need Turkey’s progress on the implementation of the Ankara Protocol. Otherwise, the number of negotiation chapters that can be opened will be limited,” Merkel said, speaking alongside Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an.

The Turkish daily Hurriyet quoted Erdo?an as saying that his country would not move on with the protocol until “an embargo” was lifted on Northern Cyprus, which is held by Turkey.

Turkey does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus and calls the country “Greek Cyprus”.

Erdo?an was also quoted as saying that his country would like to contribute to a solution in Cyprus if the newly elected president, Nicos Anastasiades, is agreeable to such a move.

Anastasiades, leader of the centre-right party DISY, is seen as less supportive of the UN-led reunification effort than his Communist predecessor Demetris Christofias.

Hurriyet wrote in an editorial that Erdo?an could decide to unilaterally apply the Ankara Protocol, by opening Turkish ports and airports to Cypriot ships and planes.

This, according to the editorial, would put the Republic of Cyprus and its EU allies in difficulty, as the absence of a solution is slowing down Turkey’s EU path.

“Even if Turkey does not make such a unilateral act, I will not be surprised at all to see intense diplomatic negotiations between Turkey, Greece and the island by summer time,” the editorial said.

Issue of jailed journalists

Asked about jailed journalists in Turkey, Erdo?an reiterated the Turkish government’s stance. The reason journalists were arrested was not because of their articles but because of “attempts to stage a coup … keeping illegal arms, or being a member of terrorist movement,” he said.

He said Turkey’s judiciary was independent, as it is in Germany. “The judiciary is not subordinate to the executive,” he said.

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 newest member states. This group includes the Republic of Cyprus, which is not recognised by Turkey.

In July 2005, Turkey signed the so-called Ankara protocol, extending its customs union to the newest states, but at the same time it 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 a commitment to trade directly with the unrecognised northern part of the island.

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