NEWS

Athens mulls Finnish plan for Cyprus

The government yesterday said it supported in principle a proposal by the European Union’s Finnish presidency to resolve a dispute with Turkey over its refusal to grant EU member Cyprus access to its harbors and airports. But Athens also stressed its loyalty to Nicosia. «We support the efforts being made by the Finnish presidency while also sharing the approach of the Republic of Cyprus on this matter,» Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said after talks with visiting European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn. Government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos was slightly more cautious in his support. «We feel this is a basis for further discussion,» he said. Meanwhile, Rehn explicitly backed Finland’s initiative which reportedly foresees easing trade restraints on the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus if Turkey agrees to open its ports to Cypriot craft and allow the return of some displaced Greek Cypriots to northern Cyprus. «The Finnish formula is the only game in town. We have to concentrate our minds and focus our efforts in supporting (it),» he said. But the proposal inspired little enthusiasm in Nicosia. «This is an effort to help Turkey (implement its EU obligations) and surely Cyprus cannot be asked to pay the price,» Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos remarked. Nicosia is «under severe pressure to compromise on issues linked to the political integrity of (Cyprus) and on procedures boosting the independence of the Turkish Cypriot side,» a Cypriot diplomatic source told Kathimerini. Turkey’s EU membership negotiator Ali Babacan, who was also in Athens yesterday, was also unconvinced by the Finnish proposal, which he said «is not a complete package.» But in Ankara, Foreign Ministry spokesman Namik Tan said Turkey has adopted a «constructive approach» to talks on the plan. As regards Turkey’s prospects for EU accession, Rehn was cautiously upbeat. «There is still time for Turkey to meet its obligations although it would have been far better if that had happened yesterday or last year,» he said after talks with Bakoyannis. The foreign minister stressed that Ankara’s EU-linked commitments «are not connected to other issues which concern the EU like trade regulations with the Turkish Cypriot community.»