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21st Sep 2020

Cyprus asks to make Turkish an EU language

  • Interpreters at work: A senior Turkish official said the Cypriot move is "an important gesture" (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Cyprus has asked the Dutch EU presidency to make Turkish an official EU language, in a “gesture” that could help reunification and improve EU-Turkey relations.

Cypriot president Nicos Anastasiades filed the request in a letter, seen by EUobserver, on 17 February to Dutch foreign minister Bert Koenders and to a senior EU civil servant, Jeppe Tranholm-Mikkelsen.

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  • The EU-Ukraine association treaty, for one, is 1,200 pages long (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

“I am writing to inform you of my government’s decision to actively seek the introduction of the Turkish language as an official language of the European Union,” he said.

“In view of the possibility of reaching a settlement on the Cyprus problem, without prejudice to whether this is actually achieved … the time has come to launch preparations to enable the Union to start using Turkish as an official EU language upon reunification,” he said.

He noted that Cyprus already filed a request during its EU entry talks in 2002.

But, at that time, it “was advised by the [EU] institutions not to insist, taking into account the limited practical purpose of such a development ... as well as the considerable cost,” Anastasiades’ letter said.

A Dutch spokesman told EUobserver that The Hague “will study its content and see what the next steps should be.”

He added that: “Unanimity is needed to adjust the [EU] language regime.”

A senior Turkish official told EUobserver that the Cypriot decision is “a very important, very positive gesture” for the Cyprus peace talks and for EU-Turkish ties more broadly.

Detente

Cyprus broke up in 1974 when Turkish forces invaded after a coup by Greek Cypriot nationalists.

Turkey later recognised the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which is home to over 300,000 people and which still hosts thousands of Turkish soldiers.

UN-mediated reunification talks restarted in 2014, lapsed, then started again last year.

Negotiators are hoping to conclude a deal by June.

The Turkish official said there’s “still a lot of obstacles,” such as disagreement over a Turkish Cypriot idea to create a rotating Cypriot presidency. But the official said there’s “good faith.”

Language aside, a European Commission spokesman said it’s also “deploying the necessary financing and human resources” to prepare for implemention of EU laws in north Cyprus.

Turkey-EU relations

The developments come amid EU-Turkey efforts to jointly manage the flow of refugees from Syria.

Part of the deal is for the EU to speed up Turkey accession talks in return for Turkey reducing migrant numbers.

The EU in December opened a new “chapter” in negotiations - on economic and monetary affairs - after a 10-year lull in the process.

Several other chapters are being blocked by Cyprus due the old conflict. But the commission is getting ready to open them if things go well.

“If the blockage is lifted because of Cyprus being solved, then we can proceed very quickly,” the Turkish official said.

Languages

The EU presently has 24 official languages.

It employs about 6,000 full-time and part-time interpreters, translators, and assistants, at a cost of €450 million a year.

It translates all legislation, including international treaties, which can be more than 1,000 pages long, into the 24 tongues.

The commission spokesman said it would cost €37 million a year to add a 25th.

Another official said the EU Council already has “a small number” of Turkish speakers because it’s “an important language for communication with a strategic partner.”

The last language to join was Croatian in 2013.

Irish joined in 2007. But Irish is being phased in up to 2022, meaning not all EU texts are yet translated, to save money.

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