Turkey’s doorway to European Union is still through Cyprus

NICOSIA – Cypriot Parliament Speaker Dimitris Christofias, general secretary of the AKEL party, is calling for coordination between Athens and Nicosia so that when Ankara is given a date to begin accession talks with the European Union, it is dependent on Turkey’s recognition of the Cypriot Republic. Christofias spoke with Kathimerini before his arrival in Athens on November 8 for talks with the government ahead of a EU summit in December, when Turkey is hoping to be given a date for the start of accession talks. When do you expect a new initiative by the international community on Cyprus? Irrespective of what we want, conditions, both in the European Union and in the world, as well as on Cyprus, do not favor a fresh initiative, even by December. We must be clear about that so that we do not assume responsibilities that are the realm of others. Turkey does not want to upset things before December 17. A crisis has broken out within the pseudo-government in the Turkish-Cypriot community, where some circles have been given orders to form a so-called government. In the international community, Britain and the US especially are currently doing what they can to help the Turkish Cypriots, even superseding legal channels within the Cypriot Republic and promoting the adoption by the EU of a regulation on direct trade with the occupied territory, again not following the proper channels determined by UN resolutions and EU operational regulations. So before December, none of those who have been in the habit of undertaking initiatives seem willing to do so. They want to clarify the issue of setting a date for Turkey (to begin accession talks) and also the question of economic support for trade between the Turkish-Cypriot community and the outside world. We have often expressed our readiness, both officially and unofficially, to assume initiatives, emphasizing that we want to discuss, on the basis of parameters in the Annan plan, the changes necessary in order to give serious attention to the concerns and rights of the Greek Cypriots and, of course, the rights won by the Turkish Cypriots, which we do not even want to touch. But the UN said it is not ready to undertake any initiative without first having the positions of the Greek Cypriots on the changes they want to the Annan plan. The EU does not want to get involved. Given also the stance of Britain and the US which you just mentioned, what chances are there of initiatives even after December 17? I believe that the UN, Britain and the US are asking for the maximum in order to gain as much as possible, or at least to change as little as possible, in the provisions in the Annan plan… Irrespective of what they say today, and bearing in mind the fact that in negotiations one does not reveal one’s cards in advance when the one who has the key to the talks – in this case Turkey – is focusing on other issues and has other priorities, I think this is not the right moment to say exactly what we want. In every meeting we have we outline the main demands and main concerns of the Greek Cypriots. I think this is a diplomatic game and we should also play it properly. They know what we want. Having said that, once talks begin, our side will have to be ready to negotiate in a very specific fashion, without minimum or maximum demands. Crisis in occupied Cyprus Where could the crisis in the Turkish-occupied territories lead? There are differing opinions. There is the view that Turkey wants to harden its stance, hence its actions in the Aegean. Due to the resistance Turkey is facing in Europe over the beginning of its accession talks, it wants to get a few messages across. This view is linked with our reactions regarding the setting of a date for Turkey and the need to link Turkey’s accession with the Cyprus problem and its resolution, and recognition of the Cypriot Republic. In my view, the latter is sine qua non. Turkey has to realize that since the EU has decided that it will negotiate with the 25 member states, it cannot ignore one of the 25 – to occupy part of that member state’s territory and not recognize it. There is the other view, which is perhaps not as valid, but it is a view all the same. Due to the crisis in the occupied territories’ pseudo-government, they want to clarify things, to hold elections again in the hope that Talat’s party will win a larger percentage of the vote and a majority in the «parliament.» These are scenarios that in my view it is not useful to consider. I would like to express the wish for an end to the crisis in the Turkish-Cypriot community and that the forces that want a solution to the Cyprus problem will once more lead the field, but with the political will that takes into consideration, I reiterate, the long-term interests of the Greek Cypriots. Role of EU Turkey gives the impression that if it is given a date to begin accession talks, it will have a period of 10-15 years, that is, as long as these talks last, for the Cyprus issue to be resolved and therefore it will be able to «play» up until the last minute. A view such as this creates a very serious problem and a threat. Here I would like to emphasize the role of the European Union. While the EU says the Cyprus issue should be resolved within the framework of the UN, I believe that if the EU respects itself it cannot remain stuck in the view that «Turkey has done its duty by saying ‘yes’ to the Annan plan.» Yet the occupation is continuing, as is the violation (via the presence of occupation troops) of international law and the territorial integrity of the Cypriot Republic, as well as the violation of human rights of refugees, the illegal presence of settlers. Yet Turkey continues not to recognize an EU member state. The EU had no other option but to demand that Turkey recognize the Cypriot Republic before it begins any negotiation… The EU continually proclaims its observation of human rights, the equality of its member states, the defense of those states’ sovereignty, principles which Turkey continually violates. Both we and Greece will have to unite our forces on these matters of principle if the EU is to do so. Is there cooperation with Greece? I believe there is, but it should become better coordinated on a very solid foundation. Take December, for example: What is Greece doing and what is Cyprus doing? We should try to get the decision (to begin talks with Turkey) linked to Turkey’s recognition of the Cypriot Republic and two or three other things that we both believe are important. We should start work today. Usually decisions are not made at the last minute but are decided together through a process of give and take along the way. Cooperation Many people, both in Greece and in Cyprus, believe the Karamanlis government’s stance has been lukewarm. Is this what has led to the gap that needs to be bridged, as you say? I did not mention any gap in the relationship between the two governments. Both the president of the republic and the Greek prime minister proclaim that they are in close and continuing cooperation. I also have experience of this cooperation. What I say is that now is the time for this close cooperation to assume flesh and bones with specific action and specific goals.