Thumbs-up for Turkey

Athens and Nicosia reacted positively to the European Commission’s announcement yesterday that gave Turkey the green light to commence EU membership negotiations. «We believe that a European Turkey is not only in the interests of the Turkish people but will also contribute to the stability, security and prosperity of our region as well as to progress in Greek-Turkish relations and the effort to find a fair, viable and practicable solution in Cyprus,» said Greek government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos. The Commission’s recommendation also included several conditions Turkey would have to abide by if talks between Ankara and the EU are to continue. These include the improvements in the country’s human rights and democracy. «Among the issues on which there needs to be quicker and more productive progress are matters of particular concern to Greece,» said Roussopoulos, in a reference that pointed mainly to the Cyprus problem. The Commission’s report devotes a whole chapter to the peaceful resolution of Turkey’s border differences, noting that relations with Greece have improved dramatically since 1999. It also applauds Turkey for the positive stance it has taken recently in trying to resolve the Cyprus issue, particularly by encouraging Turkish-Cypriots to vote in favor of the Annan plan earlier this year. Kypros Chrysostomides, spokesman for the Cypriot government, said the report proved to Turkey it needs Cyprus’s cooperation to proceed on its path toward EU membership. Chrysostomides said that he was hopeful that talks on reuniting Cyprus could begin sometime after the December 17 EU summit, when European leaders will discuss a possible start date for negotiations with Turkey. Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou yesterday also expressed satisfaction with a «compromise proposal» allowing Turkish-Cypriot representatives to take part in the Council of Europe’s parliamentary assembly. They will be allowed to attend as members of political parties rather than state representatives. Meanwhile, three Turkish MPs visited Parliament yesterday and held talks with deputy leader of the house, Sotiris Hadzigakis. «Turkey belongs to Europe and if the EU wants to play a more substantial role on the global chessboard, it cannot do so without Turkey,» said Hadzigakis.