NEWS

Cyprus is Turkey’s test

Foreign Minister George Papandreou ended a two-day visit to Cyprus yesterday, saying that Turkey’s bid to join the EU would be helped by the reunification of Cyprus. In Ankara, meanwhile, the government signaled that it is putting on hold a customs union with the breakaway Turkish-Cypriot statelet in northern Cyprus, perhaps fearing that its ratification would be a black mark in the EU’s next progress report on Turkey, which is due in November. «Turkey will be evaluated (by the EU) in helping achieve a Cyprus solution,» Papandreou said. He met with representatives of all Cypriot political parties, including members of Turkish-Cypriot opposition parties. His message focused on three major points: Cyprus faces a deadline of December 2004, when Turkey’s application for the start of accession talks will be assessed by the EU; Athens and Nicosia are finalizing the changes they would like to see in the reunification plan proposed by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan following Cyprus’s EU accession; Turkey must re-evaluate its own policy on Cyprus, as Greece had done. «We have gone through self-criticism for deeds of the past and we have paid a very high price,» he said. «I wish the same view prevailed in Turkey. If it did, we would be solving the Cyprus problem.» In a speech to members of both communities on Cyprus, Papandreou said: «The new Constitution of a united Cyprus and the EU Constitution will constitute a new Cypriot patriotism, the patriotism of the European values of justice and human rights.» He said he would do all he could for Turkish Cypriots to become citizens of the European Union – something that will not be possible when Cyprus joins the EU in May without a solution having been found. Papandreou added, «We will fight to see Turkey become a member of the European Union.» Reuters reported from Ankara that Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told EU ambassadors on Wednesday that the government would not bring the customs deal with Turkish Cypriots to Parliament for approval. «This is the first clear indication that the government is ready to confront (Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf) Denktash,» an EU diplomat told Reuters.