No new chapters for Turkey
The European Union should not shift the burden of responsibility for the migration crisis on the shoulders of Cyprus, President Nicos Anastasiades told European Council President Donald Tusk, who was on a whistle-stop tour to the region prior to the EU–Turkey Summit on the migration crisis on Thursday and Friday,
“The Republic of Cyprus will not consent to the opening of any (of the five) chapters, if Turkey does not fulfil its obligations as per the Negotiating Framework and the Ankara Protocol,” President Anastasiades said after meeting Tusk in Nicosia.
“It is unwarranted, counter-productive, not to mention unacceptable, not by President Tusk, to shift the burden of responsibility for the migration crisis on my shoulders or on the shoulders of the Republic of Cyprus,” he said.
This was a clear reference to Tusk trying to reassert his position in EU affairs, having been sidelined last week by Angela Merkel, who wanted to push her own agenda to appease Turkish concerns in the EU accession-for-migrant-aid deal.
Responding, Tusk said that he was not in Nicosia to exert pressure on Cyprus. “I am here to listen to your positions ahead of the EU Council this week,” he noted.
He stressed that when it comes to accession, “I want to make it clear that the rules have not changed. The same strict conditionality applies and moving forward will still require the agreement by all 28.”
“No third country can ever be more important to me than any of our member states,” Tusk declared. Furthermore he expressed his full support to the ongoing efforts for a settlement in Cyprus.
In his statements, Anastasiades expressed his satisfaction for the objective stance he adopted both during the recent European Councils and during Tuesday’s meeting. “A stance that corresponds with the President’s institutional capacity as the guardian of the EU’s principles and values,” he added.
He said that during the meeting, they exchanged ideas and concerns as regards the upcoming European Council.
Anastasiades noted that Cyprus, “as Turkey’s EU closest neighbour, has always been a strong supporter of Turkey’s full accession to the EU, on the condition of course that Turkey fulfils its obligations.”
“We fully understand the problems EU member states face as a result of the unprecedented flow of migrants, and in particular the serious problems faced by Greece following the closure of routes to Europe,” he said.
“In this regard - and despite the fact that the migration crisis is not connected to the discussion on the re-energisation of Turkey’s accession process - Cyprus has maintained a very constructive stance”.
He recalled that Cyprus consented to the opening of Chapter 17, accepted Turkey’s participation in informal summits on migration and consented to the Action Plan.
Turkey’s main demand at present is to conclude the chapter on Energy, while MEPs want Ankara to show progress on human rights, especially after the recent closure of liberal media groups and the imprisonment of journalists.
“At this critical phase of the negotiations for a solution of the Cyprus problem such a proposal leads me – without my intention – to come to a confrontation with Turkey. In fact, any confrontation with the Turkish Government, particularly at this critical phase, is the last thing we want.”
“The Republic of Cyprus does not intend to consent to the opening of any chapters if Turkey does not fulfil its obligations,” he stressed.
On his part, Tusk said that “at our EU summit last week, we discussed a further strengthening of our cooperation with Turkey,” noting that “this is an important pillar of our common and comprehensive European strategy. But it is never wise to build a plan on one pillar only. We should not, and we will not. The other pillars of our common European strategy consist of getting back to Schengen, ending the wavethrough-policy, including along the Western Balkans route. And also massively stepping up humanitarian assistance to the most affected countries, not least Greece,” he noted.
“Last week, I was mandated to prepare an agreement between Turkey and the EU on further strengthening our cooperation in the migration crisis. I am now working on the details. This is why I am here today in Nicosia. And this is why I will continue to Ankara this evening,” Tusk went on.
He said that the Turkish proposal worked out together with Germany and the Netherlands still needs to be re-balanced so as to be accepted by all 28 member states and the EU institutions. The objective is to conclude the negotiations on Thursday and Friday.
“One of the issues to be sorted out is the key question of legality. We need to ensure that any new large-scale return scheme between Greece and Turkey fully complies with EU law and our international commitments. This means that we must ensure that all get an individual assessment in Greece before a decision to return them to Turkey. And it also means that we must ensure that those in need of international protection receive appropriate protection in Turkey. Another issue to be addressed is that of possible alternative routes from Turkey to other EU countries such as Bulgaria. This also has to be factored in for the agreement to be effective,” he noted.
“But our cooperation with Turkey goes much beyond migration. The current dynamics offers an opportunity to reenergise the relations between the European Union and Turkey”, he said.
At the same time, he stressed that “the European Union is a Union of 28 Member States. Cyprus is as important as Germany, France, the Netherlands or any other member state. No third country can ever be more important to me than any of our member states. We should use this opportunity, and make sure that all benefit from this new dynamics, also Cyprus.”
Tusk also said that he and Anastasiades discussed the ongoing efforts in the Cyprus settlement negotiations. “A successful outcome, with support from both sides of the island, would give a fresh start not only to Cyprus, but to the whole of Europe and the wider region,” he noted.
Referring to the economic recovery, he noted that “only three years ago, you were standing on the brink of a financial abyss. Today, you are standing on your own feet again, without having used all the resources made available to you by your eurozone partners and the IMF. This success is a result of your own efforts. It is a good sign for Cyprus, the euro zone and Europe.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides reiterated during the EU General Affairs Council in Brussels the Cyprus position that the opening of negotiating chapters can harm the Cyprus settlement talks and that the two procedures should be synchronised.
“Cyprus”, he said, “respects those partners who believe that Turkey plays an important role in the migration issue and therefore accepted the cooperation between EU and Turkey on the matter.” He stated, however, that “opening accession chapters in the current phase of the Cyprus problem would only harm the ongoing talks.”
“Turkey’s demand to open accession chapters does not contribute positively to the Cyprus settlement efforts,” he said. Noting then that neither the opening of chapters nor denying to do so, helps in this case, the Foreign Minister pointed out that since last December, he has raised “the notion of the synchronisation between the two procedures, provided that with a Cyprus settlement, we will overcome any problems in the Turkish accession process.”