EU faces showdown with Cyprus over Turkey
LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers
faced a showdown with new member Cyprus on Monday over Turkey’s
bid to join the bloc, with Nicosia threatening to block the
talks even before they start in earnest.
Turkey is due to conclude negotiations on the first and
easiest of 35 detailed policy areas — science and research —
but Cyprus is insisting that Ankara first be reminded of its
obligation to recognize and normalize relations with Nicosia.
Cyprus is threatening to use its right of veto over each
stage in the accession process to prevent the Turks completing
the first step in its EU marathon smoothly.
“No progress has been made toward our views and therefore I
would say it is touch and go,” Cypriot Foreign Minister George
Iacovou said on arrival for the EU session in Luxembourg.
“Turkey has for one year not taken any steps whatsoever to
ratify the adaptation of the protocol to the Ankara agreement.
This is a breach of good faith,” he told reporters.
Accusing Turkey of having vetoed Cypriot membership of
international organizations five times since it began its EU
talks, Iacovou went straight into talks with Austrian Foreign
Minister Ursula Plassnik, holder of the EU’s rotating
presidency, to seek a solution before all 25 EU ministers met.
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, who endured a
humiliating wait while EU foreign ministers wrangled last
October before agreeing the terms for opening talks with the
bloc’s biggest candidate, is determined to avoid a repeat.
“I will not go and wait in the airport,” Gul told CNN Turk
TV on Sunday, when asked if he would attend the meeting if the
EU ministers raise a political hurdle.
Turkey, which still has 35,000 troops in Turkish Cypriot
northern Cyprus after invading in 1974 in response to a Greek
Cypriot coup fomented by the then ruling military junta in
Athens, does not recognize the Nicosia government.
It argues that recognition is linked to a U.N.-sponsored
peace plan to reunite the divided island, which Turkish
Cypriots accepted but Greek Cypriots rejected in 2004.
The other 24 EU countries had been bracing for a row with
Turkey late this year over its failure to open its ports and
airports to traffic from Cyprus but were taken aback when
Nicosia decided to raise the stakes now.
“Instead of putting the focus on Turkey’s lack of reform,
the Cypriots’ behavior is turning the spotlight onto Cypriot
intransigence,” a senior EU diplomat said.
Ironically it was Austria, now in the EU hot seat trying to
keep the negotiations on track, which kept Turkey waiting last
October to demand that the EU make Ankara’s membership bid
conditional on the bloc’s capacity to absorb new members.
An Austrian official said he expected EU foreign ministers
would anyway hold a regular “association council” with Turkey,
represented by chief negotiator Ali Babacan, who is also the
country’s economy minister, or by its EU ambassador.
But it remained uncertain whether that session would be
followed by an “accession conference” to conclude the science
and research “chapter” of the negotiations.
Austria, backed by EU lawyers, has sought to reassure
Cyprus that any “chapter” that is provisionally closed may be
Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel, voicing the
exasperation of many, said: “Let us not stop at the beginning
because this is a very innocent chapter.”
Compounding the slight to Turkey, the EU plans to conclude
the same negotiating “chapter” on Monday with Croatia, which
began talks on the same day as the Turks.
Some diplomats said they believed Cyprus would eventually
yield on Monday but wanted to fire a warning shot and lock in
EU partners’ support for getting tough with Turkey in December
unless it opens its ports and airports by then.
(Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Ingrid