A clear message to Turkey on Cyprus

EU ENLARGEMENT Commissioner Olli Rehn yesterday sent clear messages to Turkey with regard to Cyprus, stressing not only that it has to sign the protocol extending its customs union to all member states, but that it must normalise relations with Nicosia and open its ports and airports.

He also said Ankara must continue being constructive in efforts for a settlement and pledged the Commission’s backing towards a solution.

Rehn was speaking after the Commission approved the framework of negotiations with Turkey, what he described as a “rigorous” document outlining the country’s “long and difficult journey”.

The EU’s executive has not changed its line towards Turkey, but in the light of doubts raised over the past weeks it has reinforced its rhetoric, highlighting conditions and underlining the talks may not lead to membership.

Rehn said the talks were open-ended and their outcome could not be guaranteed, while recalling that the EU’s capacity to expand would also be considered when the time came.

The Finnish Commissioner made it clear that Turkey was expected to sign the protocol extending the Ankara agreement (customs union) before it begins talks on October 3, noting that the second condition (human rights laws) had been met. This is included in the Framework.

Asked what the Commission meant when it referred to the need for Turkey to maintain good neighbourly relations and how this affected Cyprus, he noted that the framework clearly stated Ankara was expected to be constructive towards a solution.
The document says Turkey must take steps contributing to “a favourable climate for a comprehensive settlement, and progress in the normalisation of bilateral relations between Turkey and all EU member states, including the Republic of Cyprus.”

Invited to explain what would constitute normalisation of relations, Rehn said concrete steps would be the signing of the Protocol and being constructive in the search for a settlement. He stopped short of bringing other examples, such as the establishment of diplomatic relations, which is what Nicosia wants.

He did, however, express regret that the efforts for a deal on the trade and aid package for the Turkish Cypriots had failed to yield agreement and reiterated the EU was willing to assist in more concrete terms, something which would be reflected in future documents.

Rehn brought up the opening of Turkey’s ports and airports to Cyprus as an example of the benchmarks Ankara would have to meet during the discussion of the 35 chapters constituting the acquis, even though this “should be expected”, as he said.
Another reference of interest to Cyprus due to the Loizidou case is that Turkey is called upon to respect “relevant European case law”.
According to sources, President Barroso set the meeting’s tone when he referred to the need for the Commission to deliver on Conclusions, saying it was the member states who would have to take any political decisions.

The Commission’s press release “calls upon the Council to foster a debate and consensus among Europeans on the relationship between the EU and Turkey.”
Rehn described the Commission’s meeting as lengthy, argumentative, lively and substantive, during which a “very political debate” took place. He admitted some member states raised the possibility of a “privileged partnership” with Turkey, but refrained from naming them.

It was said that Britain’s commissioner led the pro-Turkey camp, while the Commissioners from Austria, Luxembourg, Ireland and Slovakia were against full membership.

One source told the Mail it was mostly a very “procedural” discussion, even though Commissioners did raise issues such as the outcome of the referenda and how citizens’ misgivings about Turkey’s accession affect the procedure.

The framework also refers to the clause allowing for the talks to be suspended, upon a Commission proposal or a demand by one-third of member states, as well as the long transition periods and derogations, even for fundamental EU principles such as the free movement of persons.

Rehn was adamant the talks should open as it is a matter of credibility for the EU and for Turkey and said Ankara should be given a fair chance to prove it can meet the criteria.

The Commission yesterday also approved the launching of a “civil society dialogue” between the EU and candidate countries, namely Croatia and Turkey, with emphasis on the latter. Some 40 million euros will be earmarked for Turkey in 2006.