21st Jan 2019

Fresh controversy between Ankara and Brussels over Cyprus

  • The Turkish PM said "there’s no need to rush" in allowing Cypriot ships to dock in Turkey (Photo: European Commission)

Just days after the historic opening of Turkish EU membership talks, fresh controversy has already emerged between Ankara and Brussels over Cyprus.

The spat concerns Ankara's implementation of a customs agreement with the EU, which it agreed to extend to all new EU member states in June - including Cyprus, which Turkey refuses to recognise.

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In practical terms, this means that Turkey is obliged to stop blocking Cypriot ships and planes from its territory.

During a visit to Turkey on Thursday (6 October), EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said, according to press reports, that the EU expects Turkey's parliament to ratify the agreement "without delay and in good faith".

Ankara must then fully implement the agreement, he added.

But in a TV interview, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacted by saying that "there’s no need to rush" in ratifying the agreement.

Mr Erdogan said that the EU should instead first open trade to the Turkish-occupied northern part of Cyprus, and release its financial aid package for northern Cyprus which is now being blocked by the Cypriot government.

An EU financial aid package of 259 million euros to Turkish Cypriots, which was offered in April 2004 when Greek Cypriots voted down a UN reunification plan, is still waiting to be released from EU coffers.

The Cypriot government is blocking the release of the package, as it disagrees with a free trade scheme for Northern Cyprus, which the Commission proposed later.

Nicosia argues that free trade with the north would mean a de facto recognition of the Turkish-occupied North.

The Commission’s efforts to push Ankara to implement the customs agreement were dealt a blow last week, as a majority in the European Parliament suspended the EU’s own ratification of the deal, arguing that there were not enough assurances on Ankara's commitment to the customs agreement.

Mr Rehn said the parliament’s move did "not strengthen our position in urging Turkey to stick to its commitment."

Human rights record

Now that Turkey has started accession talks with Brussels, further difficulties are set to arise over what is expected to be a highly critical report by the commission on human rights, to be released in November.

Mr Rehn urged Ankara on Thursday to step up political reforms warning that the EU executive would in its regular progress report, due next month, point to Turkish human rights shortcomings.

"This means rigorously implementing political reforms in the areas of the rule of law, human rights, women's rights, the rights of religious communities and trade unions", Mr Rehn said.

He added that this implied "to make the rule of law an everyday reality in all walks of life".

The commission in the up-run to accession talks already expressed serious concern over Ankara’s actual implementation of its political reforms.

Brussels' concern focussed recently on the decision by a Turkish court to file charges against the author, Orhan Pamuk, who had raised the issue of the Armenian genocide in 1915.

The Istanbul prosecutor’s charges against Mr Pamuk were made despite a new penal code along EU standards that Ankara was forced to adopt as a condition to open accession talks.

Mr Rehn in September called the move by the Turkish prosecutor a "provocation".

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