22nd Oct 2020

Tough Cypriot stance reduces hopes of EU-Turkey deal

The Cypriot government has reiterated its threat to veto Turkey's EU accession talks while rejecting key demands from the Turkish Cypriots. Its stance is damaging efforts by the Finnish EU presidency to avert a major crisis between Ankara and Brussels.

At the margins of an EU foreign ministers' meeting in Luxembourg today (16 October), Turkey's foreign minister Abdullah Gul will hold talks with an EU "troika" – the Finnish presidency, the upcoming German presidency as well as the European Commission - discussing ways to avert a derailment of Ankara's ongoing EU membership talks.

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  • Nicosia warns that it will "not yield again" on Ankara (Photo: European Commission)

The EU is asking Turkey to open its ports and airports to traffic from EU member state Cyprus before the end of the year, with Helsinki promoting a trade-off solution by which the EU would make moves toward ending the economic isolation of the Turkish community in the North of Cyprus.

But Cypriot foreign minister Yiorgos Lillikas said over the weekend that a key demand from the Turkish Cypriot side - that the end of the isolation should also include the opening of the Erkan airport in the North - is unacceptable.

"The idea of opening some airports in the occupied part [of Cyprus] cannot be accepted by either the Cypriot government or the Cypriot people," he said according to Financial Times Deutschland.

Last week, Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat told Brussels reporters that "We are asking for the inclusion of the Ergan airport" in the deal.

Further raising the pressure on Ankara and the Turkish Cypriots, Mr Yiorgos Lillikas said in another interview with Greek newspaper To Vima over the weekend that Nicosia is ready to block Turkey's EU accession negotiations, started in October last year.

"Cyprus will no longer give a 'green light' [to EU membership talks] if Turkey fails to fulfil its obligations," he said according to German news agency DPA.

Even if all 24 other EU member states were to favour continuing the talks, Nicosia could still revert to its veto. "We mean what we say," Mr Lillikas said. "We will not yield again."

The remarks come as a challenge to the Finnish EU presidency which is currently involved in intense negotiations with Ankara and Nicosia, as well as with the Turkish Cypriots who fear losing out on the any trade-off deal designed to save Turkey's EU entry talks.

Although Helsinki has been careful not to put its ideas on paper, diplomats say it involves a UN role in supervising the Northern Cypriot port of Famagusta which would facilitate direct trade between the Turkish Cypriots and the EU.

But the Cypriot government and the Turkish Cypriots are wrangling over the terms of any such deal, with Nicosia demanding that the former Greek Cypriot residents of Varosha – a ghost town bordering Famagusta under Turkish occupation - should be allowed to return and live in the town.

Commission worries

EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn said last week that "the consequences for the EU and Turkey would be very severe" if the diplomatic efforts were to fail. "We should do our utmost to avoid this," he said.

The commission will on 8 November release a key report on Turkey's progress in accession preparations, which is set to be dominated not only by the Cyprus issue but also by what Brussels sees as lagging political reform in Turkey.

European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso told the BBC over the weekend that "we cannot expect Turkey to become a member in less than 15 to 20 years."

"In fact, we are concerned about Turkey because the pace of reforms is rather slow from our point of view. I believe it would be great to have Turkey if Turkey respects all the economic and political criteria," he said.

"This is not yet the case," he added.

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