NEWS

Turkish Cypriots urged to join EU

The European Commission yesterday urged Turkish Cypriots to reach a settlement to end the island’s division which would allow them to reap benefits from Cypriot membership of the European Union. EU membership for the entire island would allow the recession-struck northern community to enjoy the same benefits as their Greek-Cypriot neighbors, the European Commission said in a report. The report on the progress toward membership, the last bar one before the EU is expected to approve its most ambitious enlargement, coincides with growing concern in Brussels at the implications of a divided island joining its ranks. While most other candidates have to grapple with reforms to get into the EU, entry for Cyprus hinges on keeping the lid on rows between Turkey and EU member Greece, and preventing them sending the entire expansion project skidding off the tracks. Turkey, which supports the breakaway state in the island’s north, has said it could annex the territory if Cyprus joins without a political settlement – a prospect which could effectively derail its own EU membership hopes. The EU considers that Turkey has an important role to play in ensuring that the efforts undertaken by the UN Secretary-General lead to positive results in the months ahead, the Commission said. Addressing the European Parliament later, Guenter Verheugen, the commissioner for the EU’s enlargement, warned Turkey not to go ahead with its annexation threat. That would put a serious strain on relations between the EU and Turkey and I don’t see how we could resolve that easily, he said. The EU has said that it would prefer to see a settlement to the Cyprus problem before the island joins, but insists this cannot be a precondition for membership. The EU executive said it was disappointing that the Turkish Cypriot leadership, backed by Ankara, is not presently engaged in the UN process. All parties concerned should take full advantage of the window of opportunity before the completion of the accession negotiations to achieve a settlement, the report said. The Commission said that it would be supportive of any constitutional arrangements the two sides reached in the context of a settlement, provided that it was able to speak with one voice in the EU decision-making process. Residents in the government-controlled parts of the island enjoy purchasing power of 18,500 euros per annum, 83 percent of the EU average. It is among the highest among the aspiring EU members, and would likely make the island a net contributor to the community budget once it joins. But that ratio would be radically altered if Turkish Cypriots were included from day one. Per capita income in the north lags far behind that of residents in the south, the report said. For 2000, estimates put income per head at 5,000 euros in northern Cyprus, while the financial and economic crisis in Turkey has further aggravated the economic situation. The economic reforms associated with EU accession will reduce disparities in living standards on the island, the report said. Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Mesut Yilmaz, who is in charge of his country’s negotiations with the EU, called the report’s language as regards Turkey’s bid objective, constructive and careful. He avoided commenting on the Cyprus issue, noting only that Turkey should not be asked to take action alone. Meanwhile, in a bid to shake off the pressure he is under from the United Nations and the United States and to appear cooperative, Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash yesterday again sent a letter to Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides calling on him to meet with him in Nicosia as a friend to discuss ways to lift the present deadlock. According to Cypriot sources, Clerides will repeat his readiness to meet with Denktash as long as the latter returns to the UN-mediated process that he walked out of in September last year. Denktash’s move is seen as indicative of the difficult situation he is in as officials at the UN and foreign mediators believe that it is his continual stonewalling that has led to the impasse. The initial optimism that the UN talks could start again in December has now been shaken. Mediators believe that any developments will come in the new year. Young robbers. Police in Kifissia, northern Athens, yesterday arrested three Albanian schoolchildren aged 11, 13 and 14 for allegedly breaking into and robbing a kiosk of 2.2 million drachmas and mobile phone cards worth 800 000 drachmas, as well as a cinema, from which they stole 10,000 drachmas in change. Police also arrested their respective guardians, Nik Blaphip, 39, Boland Hamit, 38 and Tanas Antoni, 37, for failing to supervise minors.