Greek Cyprus said on Monday that it would not end its veto of Turkey‘s accession negotiations with the European Union, potentially scuppering EU leaders’ plans to “re-energize” the talks in return for Ankara’s help in tackling Europe’s migrant crisis.
The conflict-divided eastern Mediterranean island has a long list of grievances against Turkey, its giant northern neighbor. It has blocked the accession talks for several years, citing the presence of Turkish troops in the Turkish-speaking north of the island.
“The reasons [the negotiations] were frozen have not ceased to exist,” Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides told the Greek state broadcaster NET. “As things presently stand, we cannot give our consent [to their resumption].”
EU leaders last week pledged renewed consideration of the long-stalled accession talks with Ankara, cash and easier visa terms in return for its help in tackling a migration crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflicts and poverty in the Middle East and Africa pour into Europe.
Almost half a million people, including many Syrians fleeing war in their homeland, have entered the EU this year, mainly crossing from Turkey to EU member Greece. Turkey itself has provided shelter for some 2.2 million Syrian refugees.
Kasoulides referred specifically to two chapters, or policy areas in accession negotiations, one concerning the judiciary and fundamental rights and the other dealing with justice, freedom and security.
Greek Cyprus, an EU member state since 2004, has been split along ethnic lines since a Turkish intervention in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.
Greek Cyprus is blocking the accession talks because Turkey still keeps troops in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (KKTC), whose government is recognized only by Ankara. The EU considers the Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia to represent the whole island.
On-off peace talks
Greek Cyprus is currently blocking six of the 35 chapters Turkey must conclude as part of its accession negotiations. These include energy, where Turkey has attempted to challenge Greek Cyprus’s right to explore for oil and gas in a region that has recently yielded some of the world’s biggest natural gas finds in a decade.
In addition to Greek Cyprus, some other EU member states have been at best lukewarm about the possible future admission of Turkey, a large, mainly Muslim nation that borders unstable, conflict-riven countries such as Syria and Iraq.
On-off peace talks over the years to reunite the island as a federation have so far failed, but diplomats say a present round of talks are showing encouraging signs of progress.
Kasoulides, who was in Athens to address an interfaith conference, said talks had not yet reached the stage where the sides had “mirror image” positions but said he was hopeful of progress as talks went on.
A former British colony, Cyprus has a complex governance system where Britain, Greece and Turkey are “guarantors” of the island in the event of a disruption to constitutional order. Greek Cyprus wants to abolish those guarantees, used as a pretext for military intervention in the past.
“These guarantees cannot be accepted as a means to make either Greek or Turkish Cypriots feel safe,” Kasoulides said.