Wednesday

22nd Feb 2017

Cyprus fails to block EU step for Turkey

  • The prospect of Turkey's EU membership divides member states (Photo: EUobserver)

Cyprus on Tuesday failed to block the opening of the environment chapter in EU-Turkey negotiations, but said it would set new hurdles in other areas.

After hours of prolonged talks in which Swedish foreign minister Carl Bildt is said to have 'literally made them sign', EU foreign ministers decided to open talks on bringing Turkey's environmental policies in line with community law.

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Coming out of the talks, Cypriot foreign minister Markos Kyprianou, a former EU commissioner until last year, said his country did not oppose the move but would in future veto talks in six other areas: labour mobility, fundamental rights, justice system, education, foreign policy and energy.

"We will be setting conditions for the opening of the chapters," Mr Kyprianou said. "Our intention is not to stop the Turkish accession process," he added.

Out of the 35 negotiation chapters for EU accession, divided on specific areas such as transport or environment – eight are already blocked until Turkey recognises the borders of Cyprus and opens its ports and airports to vessels from this country.

Ankara is the only capital recognising the independence of Northern Cyprus, which it occupied in 1974, in

response to a Greek-inspired coup in Nicosia, aimed at uniting it with Greece.

A re-unification plan of the divided island failed to be implemented before Cyprus' accession to the EU in May 2004. That prompted former enlargement commissioner Gunther Verheugen to say the EU was tricked by the Greek Cypriots who initially backed the plan, only to reject it once the accession treaty was signed.

On Tuesday, enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn defused questions from journalists on whether the European Commission will continue to recommend the opening of new negotiation chapters despite Ankara's lack of progress on the Cyprus issue.

"Eight chapters are already frozen precisely because of this issue," he pointed out.

The Swedish EU presidency, represented by its foreign minister Carl Bildt, also stressed that the ministers recognised the "strategic" importance of Turkey for the European Union as an energy route, regional mediator and for the links with the Muslim world.

Turkey has been knocking on the EU door for 22 years and was granted candidate status only ten years ago. The prospect of its membership is highly divisive among member states, with France being one of the most vocal opponents of the idea. Unlike other applicant countries who have opened negotiations, Turkey's path is "open-ended", meaning that even after fulfilling all criteria, the EU could reject its membership. Ankara could also decide not to join at the end of the process.

Greece still blocking Macedonia's bid

In a separate move, another veto was raised by Greece against opening accession negotiations with the former Yougoslav republic of Macedonia, due to a bilateral dispute over the name of the country. Greece opposes its neighbour being named "Macedonia", as a province of its own has the same name.

The EU commission said Skopje had done its homework for this step and recommended the opening of negotiations. Foreign ministers "took note" of this recommendation and decided to "return to the matter during the next EU presidency" - meaning in the next six months.

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Interview

'Don't push Turkey away', says writer Elif Shafak

Novelist and essayist Elif Shafak said that isolating Turkey would "play into the hands of populism" and that liberals everywhere should defend their values with "emotional intelligence".

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