Hopes fade as Cyprus talks reach deadlock

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As UN-mediated talks on the reunification of Cyprus stagnate, representatives from both sides of the divided island accused each other of bad faith during separate visits to Brussels.

The reunification talks, which are now entangled in the difficult chapter of property claims, may not be successful, UN Special Representative on Cyprus Alexander Downer was quoted as saying in Nicosia by the local press yesterday (2 December).

Making their case in Brussels at two separate events, high-level diplomats from both sides confirmed talks were reaching a dead end.

Mehmet Ali Talat, a former negotiator from the so-called 'Northern Cyprus Turkish Republic', which is recognised only by Ankara, said a solution was elusive.

"Unfortunately, we are not expecting any good development," Talat said at a meeting organised by the Friedrich-Ebert Foundation in Brussels.

The former Turkish Cypriot negotiator, who was replaced by hardliner Dervi? Ero?lu after elections in the northern part of the island in April, said important progress had been made during his time on the issue of future power sharing.

But now, he said talks were bogged down due to Greek Cypriot intransigence. "The EU caused my overthrow," Talat said, suggesting that Brussels had not put enough pressure on Nicosia to compromise. The Turkish Cypriots then elected a hardliner to replace him.

Make or break

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will host a meeting in Geneva in January with Cyprus President Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Dervi? Ero?lu to try and find a solution.

"I want to warn the international community regarding the Geneva meeting: if there is no progress, there is a possibility of collapse," Talat stated.

He argued that Cyprus was in a "comfortable position" because, as an EU member, it did not need a solution to the problem.

He also referred to the fact that Turkey's accession negotiations with the EU were running out of chapters to negotiate, because they were being blocked either by the European Commission or by individual member countries.

Secret talks

"Turkey's EU perspective is quickly approaching a dormant position," Talat said in response to a question from EURACTIV on reports that secret negotiations were ongoing to unblock the situation.

The Commission was reportedly engaged in an effort 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').

Under one possible scenario, Turkey would 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.

But Talat was categorical in saying that the reports about secret talks were only "rumours".

Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis, Cypriot minister of communications and works, concurred with Talat on this point, suggesting the reports were the result of Turkish propaganda. She insisted that no solution could come on that basis, saying that "one injustice" could not repair "another injustice".

Diplomats from the team accompanying the Cyprus minister explained that a decision to open ports or airports in the northern part of the island to EU traffic was completely out of the question. The reason for this, they explained, is that Nicosia cannot have at its border crossing points it does not control.

However, the possibility of opening the port of Famagusta under UN supervision was a possibility, a Cypriot diplomat told EURACTIV.

Cypriot President Demetris Christofias recently suggested that Varosha, a district in the city of Famagusta located in occupied Turkish territory, could hold the key to talks on reunifying the island.

If Turkey returns Varosha to the UN, the Republic of Cyprus will give the green light to open the port of Famagusta to commercial transactions with the EU, Christofias said.

Both Varosha and Famagusta, now 'ghost cities', would be restored with EU support as part of the common heritage of both communities.

However, this is not the way Talat presented the situation.

"Opening Famagusta should be done without [Cyprus] asking anything [in exchange]. And of course, Turkey will respond," he said.

Kozakou-Marcoullis said she had come to Brussels to communicate the losses suffered not only by Cyprus, but by the EU as a whole, as a result of Turkey's refusal to open its ports to vessels from Cyprus.

A Power Point presentation she presented to the EU Council of Ministers shows that 2,800 vessels seen by Ankara as having a relationship with Cyprus are not allowed to Turkey, resulting in an annual loss of revenue of 138.5 million euros. This harms not just her country, but the EU as a whole, she insisted.

Asked what did she wanted the EU to do, she indicated that in similar situations and according to EU law, "concerted measures" were applicable.

Asked if she wanted new sanctions imposed on Ankara, she said Cyprus was "not suggesting anything" as it was up to the European Commission to decide.

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. 

Stagnating talks on the reunification of Cyprus are directly affecting Turkey's EU accession bid.

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.

  • 25-26 Jan. 2011: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Cypriot President Demetris Christofias and Turkish leader Dervi? Ero?lu due to meet in Geneva.

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