Greek Cypriots may block Turkey's EU accession process

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades signals that he could prevent European Union from restarting membership talks with Turkey in exchange for Ankara blocking refugee flow to continent

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades (R) and European Council President Donald Tusk shake hands before a meeting at the presidential palace in Nicosia, Cyprus on March 15, 2016.

The Greek Cypriot administration said on Tuesday it could not consent to the European Union (EU) entering a new phase with Turkey in its bid to join the bloc, potentially scuppering an accord between the EU and Ankara designed to stem the influx of refugees into Europe.

Greek Cypriot leader Nicos Anastasiades told reporters after a meeting with EU Council President Donald Tusk that he conveyed that his administration "does not intend to consent to the opening of any chapters if Turkey does not fulfill its obligations as described in the negotiating framework."

Recognising the potential problem, Tusk visited the divided Cypriot capital Nicosia on Tuesday and was due to meet Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu later in the day in Ankara.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told EU leaders last week that Ankara was willing to take back all refugees who enter Europe from Turkey in the future in return for financial aid, faster EU entry talks and quicker visa-free travel for its citizens.

As an EU member, the Greek Cypriot administration has previously frozen a number of negotiation "chapters" concerning Ankara’s EU membership on the grounds that Turkey has not yet opened its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic.

Greek Cypriots have been at loggerheads with Turkey since 1974 when the island was divided into two spheres, the south being governed by the Greek Cypriot administration and the north being governed by the Turkish Cypriots.

In July 1974, the Turkish government militarily intervened in the northern part of the island with the intention of protecting the Turkish population after a short-lived Greek-orchestrated coup on the island aimed at union with Greece (a concept known in Greek as Enosis).

The island became independent in 1960 as the Republic of Cyprus. Three countries, Turkey, Greece, and Britain, were made its guarantor states, according to the Zürich and London agreements.

Following the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus many disagreements emerged between the island's diverse population of Greeks and Turks, particularly due to the failure of Greek Cypriot lawmakers to establish separate municipalities for Turkish Cypriots as outlined in the country's constitution.

Peace talks to resolve the Cyprus issue are now underway between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides, but Turkey - which maintains more than 30,000 troops in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus - is instrumental to any peace accord.

As a result, the Cyprus dispute reverberates beyond its small borders as a source of tension between NATO allies Greece and Turkey. It is also an obstacle to Turkey joining the EU, since Greek Cypriots have veto rights over allowing new members.

EU leaders are attempting to work out the details of the refugee accord with Turkey by the next scheduled summit on Thursday and Friday.

"The Turkish proposal worked out together with Germany and the Netherlands still needs to be rebalanced so as to be accepted by all 28 member states and EU institutions," Tusk said regarding the issue.

"In fact, any confrontation with the Turkish government, particularly at this critical stage in the negotiations, is the last thing we are looking for," Anastasiades underlined.

Recent peace talks in the divided island of Cyprus have shown progress on several fronts, but disagreements persist and work is still needed before a blueprint might be put to a public vote, the Greek Cypriot leader said in mid-February.

The last major effort to break the deadlock and settle the Cyprus dispute was the Annan Plan - the UN proposal for the federation and consequent accession of a united Cyprus to the EU in 2004 initiated by then Secretary General Kofi Annan.

At the time, while the Turkish Cypriots approved the plan, the Greek Cypriots rejected it overwhelmingly. The EU subsequently accepted Cyprus as a member while the division remained.

As a result the Greek Cypriot south represents the whole island in the EU, something which has been protested by Turkey. 

TRTWorld, Reuters