EU heat on Turkey

The European Union yesterday warned Turkey clearly that its path toward joining the bloc will depend on its efforts to help solve the Cyprus issue. The European Commission’s report on the 10 countries that will be joining the EU in May, as well as Bulgaria, Romania and Turkey, urged Ankara to implement more reforms, but it also put great emphasis on Cyprus. «The absence of a settlement could become a serious obstacle to Turkey’s EU aspirations,» the Commission said. «The European Council has repeatedly underlined its strong preference for accession by a united Cyprus. The Commission considers that there are favorable conditions for the two communities to reach a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus problem before Cyprus’s accession to the EU on 1 May 2004. To this end, the EU should reiterate its call to all parties concerned, in particular Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot leadership, to resume talks on the basis of UN Secretary-General (Kofi Annan’s) proposal.» The Commission did not say what obstacles Turkey might meet but its statement put the onus on Ankara to push Turkish-Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash into accepting a settlement. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul had lobbied Commissioner Guenter Verheugen intensively to prevent the Cyprus link to Turkey’s accession bid. Ankara rejected the link yesterday but Gul said Turkey would do its best to help solve the Cyprus issue before May 1, when the island will join the EU. Addressing the European Parliament, Commission President Romano Prodi reiterated the EU’s desire to see Cyprus accede as a unified country. «Reaching a settlement quickly is in Turkey’s interest too, because this would prevent the Cyprus issue from becoming an obstacle to its own aspirations,» he said. «All parties concerned need to contribute to this process and the Commission stands ready to assist in every possible way.» Verheugen told the Parliament the Commission believed its strong message would help the Turkish government confront hardline opponents to a Cyprus settlement. He acknowledged that Ankara did not have a legal obligation to help solve the Cyprus issue, but he stressed that it was a political issue. «We simply note that if there is not a solution to the Cyprus question, then this would be a considerable obstacle to Turkey’s aspirations to Europe. That’s all we’re saying,» he said.