Cyprus signals freeze of reunification talks

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Ten days before it takes over the rotating EU presidency, Cyprus said it would “put on the back burner” the long-standing reunification talks with Turkey to focus instead on a complex Union agenda. Meanwhile, EU Commissioner for enlargement Štefan Füle urged Nicosia to proceed on both tracks.

A government representative and a leading MEP from the island argued yesterday (20 June) that Cyprus should focus on its EU presidency duties since the reunification talks had little chance of success.

Andreas Mavroyannis, deputy minister to the president of Cyprus for EU affairs, insisted that his country would not mix the “Cyprus issue” with presidency business.

“But at the same time we cannot accept that Turkey comes and tells us the first of July is the absolute deadline for the solution of the Cyprus problem because then we have a plan B,” he said at a public event organised by the Centre for European Studies, the European People's Party think tank.

“So it’s not us who are establishing a link [between the presidency and the reunification talks], it’s Turkey."

Mavroyannis was alluding to threats by Turkey to consider annexing northern Cyprus, which is technically EU territory, if talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots fail to reach a reunification deal before the start of the presidency.

Ioannis Kasoulides, vice chair of the EPP group and member of the opposition Democratic Rally in Cyprus, commended his government for its handling of reunification talks.

“Each country assuming a rotating presidency puts on the back burner its own national problems of interests. We forget we are Cypriots or whatever, and we must be Europeans and deal with all the European issues,” he said.

Kasoulides blasted Turkey for having “provoked” his country by inviting the UN mediator for the reunification talks with less than two weeks before the start of the presidency on 1 July.

“With all due respect, during the six months of this presidency, we cannot do both,” he stressed.

“Besides, we know what the position of Turkey is. Turkey does not recognise Cyprus, it does not recognise the presidency of the EU – how are we going to do it?” he said.

He said that during the Cyprus presidency, Turkey would be treated “as any other country,” despite the problems. He added that there were “available chapters” in Turkey’s accession talks to be opened, such as the competition chapter, but said Ankara didn’t want it to be opened.

The statements by the Cypriot representatives appear to contrast with the message of Füle, who visited both the Republic of Cyprus and the northern part of the island, occupied by Turkey since 1974 (see background).

Contradictions between Brussels and Nicosia?

Füle spoke in strong terms, warning of the “worrying situation in the settlement process and the upcoming Cypriot presidency of the Council of the European Union.”

“The worst thing to happen would be to stop talking to each other … Unfinished business on Cyprus is becoming unfinished business in the EU. You can feel it more and more in the EU,” said the commissioner, who urged both sides to carry on with reunification talks during the Cyprus presidency.

“I do not agree that it is a threat to the settlement process. … The increased attention in the next six months is in the interest of the pro-solution forces in both communities. The sense of urgency to solve the Cyprus problem will increase as a result of the presidency,” Füle said.

Turkey must respect the fact that President Demetris Christofias is not only representing Cyprus as of July 1, but the whole of the European Union, said the president of the Group of Socialists and Democrats (S&D) in the European Parliament, Hannes Swoboda, on a visit to Cyprus on 19 June. 

Speaking after meeting with Christofias, the head of the second largest party in the European Parliament said he was “disappointed” with the lack of respect shown by Turkey to Cyprus and its upcoming EU Presidency, the Cyrus Mail reported.  

“It is a European Presidency. Turkey cannot expect from Europe compromises if it doesn’t respect the decisions of the EU. President Christofias is not representing only Cyprus, he is representing the Union in these six months and this has to be respected by Turkey,” said Swoboda, who called on Turkey to make moves to push forward its EU accession path, by behaving more responsibly with regard to the reunification of Cyprus. 

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 by 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 dispute. 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 claims the EU has fallen short of a commitment to trade directly with the unrecognised Northern part of the island.

So far, only one accession 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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