The EU-Turkey rapprochement is positive, but Ankara must realise it can’t seek closer cooperation, and at the same time say “I don’t recognise the Republic of Cyprus,” the Ambassador of Cyprus to the EU, Kornelios Korneliou, told EURACTIV in an exclusive interview.
Ambassador Kornelios Korneliou is a career diplomat. He has chaired Coreper II during the Cyprus Presidency of the EU in 2012, has been ambassador to France and UNESCO, and has served in the United Nations, the OSCE, Austria and Germany.
He spoke to EURACTIV’s Senior Editor, Georgi Gotev.
What is your interpretation of the results of the 29 November EU-Turkey summit? Was it good decision-making?
I think it was a good, because we all realised the key role Turkey can play in addressing the migration crisis. Although we believe that the EU should also look at other countries which are experiencing great migratory pressure, like Jordan and Lebanon. We were positive to convene this meeting in order to begin working with Turkey on migration issues.
But in the discussions it was also obvious that leaders were keen to talk about the broader agenda of this relationship. For this reason, the statement that was agreed by the 29th is not limited to migration issues.
Cyprus did not object to it, although five chapters of Turkey’s EU accession negotiations are blocked by your country. Are these the chapters likely to be opened if everything goes well?
We don’t see any link between these five chapters and the statement. That’s why we couldn’t accept the first draft of the statement, which included such a reference. There is no link at all between the accession process, with its intergovernmental nature, and the broader cooperation with Turkey.
There is indeed a reference to the accession process in the statement, but there is also a reference to the European Council conclusions of last October, which clearly stated that the re-energising of the accession process will be based on the negotiating framework and the relevant Council conclusions. So the framework is there, but there is now an opportunity for all sides involved to make a fresh start.
We noticed the very optimistic statement by Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu, who said he expected a solution to the Cyprus problem by the end of March. I discussed the issue further with Turkish European Affairs minister Volkan Bozk?r, who said he expected a referendum by the end of March. Is this realistic?
Inshallah (God willing)! I don’t know whether this is realistic or not. There is an ongoing process on the island. There has been some progress. But at the same time, there are some crucial issues, especially for the Greek Cypriot community which have not been decided and agreed yet. I’m giving as an example the territorial aspect, and also the security issues and the guarantees. If these issues are not addressed effectively, then I think the time is not ripe to talk about a referendum, and we should avoid the mistakes of 2004 [the Annan Plan which was rejected by the Greek Cypriot community].
Can you elaborate what you mean by the territorial aspect and the guarantees?
As you know, 37% of the territory of Cyprus is occupied by the Turkish army since 1974. So one of the main aspects of the problem is the territorial one. And there, the positive contribution by Turkey is needed. Some part of that territory should be returned to the Greek Cypriots. This is an issue at the negotiation table not yet addressed.
Is this a big proportion?
It’s difficult to talk about these things because it’s a very sensitive issue for both communities. It depends on the overall package, and of the political decision of the two leaders.
But anyway, the deal will be for a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation.
On the governance of the island, more or less, the elements are there. We are talking about a bi-zonal, bi-communal federation, with two constituent states, the Greek Cypriot and the Turkish Cypriot states. So it will be an united island, a member of the EU, which will continue to participate in EU deliberations.
And that’s why we are glad to see more engagement this time from the European Commission, as far as the functioning of the new state of affairs is concerned, the preparation of the Turkish Cypriots in adopting the EU acquis as well, but also very keen to discuss the financial aspect of the solution.
The entire territory of Cyprus is considered EU territory. Does EU funding go to the Turkish Cypriot community?
Yes, money also goes to the Turkish Cypriot community. There is a special regulation agreed in 2006 that allows financial support from the EU to go to the Turkish Cypriot community.
But not to the same scale probably?
Don’t forget that the Republic of Cyprus is a net contributor [to the EU budget], so we didn’t get much money, much support from the EU.
How about the Turkish army stationed on the island?
If you look at the map of Cyprus and you compare it to the size of our big neighbour Turkey, you come very quickly to the conclusion that you don’t need any army to safeguard peace and stability, especially when you talk about an EU member state. The same applies to the syetm of guarantees. This is an anachronistic system which was imposed on the Cypriot people back in 1959. I think it would not be rational to maintain that guarantee system, especially after the accession of Cyprus to the EU.
We are talking now about the European Union guaranteeing the peace, the safety in other regions of the world. All in all, I don’t think there is a need for the Turkish army to maintain a presence there.
But many of those people have been living on the island for years. Will they be allowed to stay if they chose?
You probably talk about the settlers from Turkey, which came over in the last 40 years. This is an issue which is also being discussed. There were some proposals made in the past, and some declarations made from ours side. We are ready to look into this issue in the overall context.
Regarding the constitution mentioned by minister Bozk?r, is there already a draft?
No, there have been a lot of discussions regarding the governance of the island, but there has been no single document that has been presented to the people. Many ideas have been discussed in the past, but we have to wait for the final outcome of these negotiations, to see more clearly the elements of the solution.
So the referendum will not be about the constitution?
It will be on the overall, comprehensive solution, addressing all issues. Because it’s important in that (it’s) referendum for the people to decide (on) the future of their country. Not only as far the constitution is concerned, but also as far as the security is concerned, to know whether the Turkish military will stay on the island and to what extent, to know who is going to guarantee the solution, the financial aspects of the solution, the settlers aspect, how much territory will be returned…
It will be a very long question then?
No, it will not be a very long question. It will be a very simple one, whether we accept the agreement of the two leaders.
Can this happen as early as in March?
It can be presented even tomorrow, if there is a political will. But this plan, which will be presented to the people, should address comprehensively all the aspects of the problem.
Do you have the feeling that Turkey is speeding up the process simply because it has a window of opportunity of rapprochement with the EU?
I hope this is not the case. But definitely I think it was not very wise on our side, the EU side, to start this transactional process with Turkey beforehand. We acknowledged the key role of Turkey in addressing the migration crisis, but I don’t see why we need to make a reference to the accession negotiations, or to the visa liberalisation, in such (an) agreement.
If we want to have a fresh start in this relationship, first of all, we need to establish trust. Otherwise you cannot have a healthy beginning.
Secondly, we need to be able to move forward together. And in order to do so, Turkey needs to acknowledge the minimum. And the minimum is that around that table there are 28 member states. You cannot talks about closer cooperation with the EU and at the same time say “I don’t recognise the Republic of Cyprus”, or “I’m not going to implement the readmission agreement with Cyprus”.
If Turkey remains faithful to this position, this process will stop very quickly.
You mentioned trust, but in terms of trust, I don’t see any improvement. Perhaps the situation is worse because of the downing of the Russian jet by Turkey, and the jailing of prominent journalists. What has changed is that there have been second elections in Turkey, and now the government feels strong, and that the EU has a big problem and has decided to solve it with the help of Turkey.
Sometimes cooperation can be launched because of a need. There is a need now to address the migration crisis and Turkey can play a crucial role. This is a need acknowledged by us, by the EU. So we need to reach out to Turkey and establish this cooperation, especially on migration. Turkey wanted to broaden the agenda, and it seems that the majority of member states were also keen to broaden the agenda. But now it’s a two-way street. It’s not only for the EU to deliver, it’s for Turkey to deliver. But if we talks about closer cooperation between the EU of 28 and Turkey, the minimum requirement will be to acknowledge the presence of 28. Otherwise, if you remain stuck in the positions of the past, this won’t lead us anywhere.
Don’t forget: it doesn’t matter that the Commission is promising the opening of five chapters. The decision to open a chapter is taken by the 28 member states. I’m not saying here that we are going back now. No, we took the decision to re-energise the accession process [of Turkey], this is a decision by our leaders. But there is an established framework and there are some deliverables here. If Turkey wants really to achieve progress in the accession process, they need to deliver under their accession obligations.
We should remind ourselves that the normalisation of relations [by Turkey] with the Republic of Cyprus is a basic requirement of the negotiating framework, agreed to by Turkey and the EU.
Did President Nikos Anastasiades speak directly to Prime Minister Davuto?lu?
From what I saw in the beginning yes, he greeted him and they spoke briefly. I don’t know about the course of the evening because they were alone.
Mr Davuto?lu is coming back to Brussels for the EU summit, on 17 December.
Yes, we heard that he was invited to a meeting with some member states on the 17th. We don’t mind seeing Mr Davuto?lu in the corridors of Justus Lipsius [the Council building] quite often. We should not forget that if Turkey comes closer to the EU, the first that is going to gain from this process is Cyprus. Geography cannot change, and will always haunt us.