‘High time’ for reunification on Cyprus

Earlier this month, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told Turkey that it must speed up its reforms if it is going to succeed in its bid to join the European Union. He informed Ankara that it has «plenty of work» to do on issues such as freedom of expression and the media, as well as trade union rights, if it wants entry into the bloc. In a recent interview with Kathimerini’s Cyprus edition, Rehn examined how far Turkey had progressed in helping to resolve its differences with Nicosia, as well as Cyprus’s contribution to the European Union since it joined the bloc. Five years after enlargement and the accession of Cyprus, what is the assessment of Cyprus as a member of the EU and the eurozone? The 2004 enlargement is mostly referred to as the reunification of Eastern and Western Europe, but the accession of Cyprus and Malta is likewise a very important event for all of us in the EU. Joining the EU, Cyprus became part of the single market, which engendered further trade opportunities and was conducive to attracting additional foreign investment. The harmonization pro-cess with the EU’s legal order and the significant structural reforms that Cyprus has undergone within the framework of the Lisbon agenda have transformed its economic landscape. Trade and financial activities have been liberalized, while price controls and investment restrictions have been lifted. Private financing has been introduced for the construction and operation of major infrastructure projects and monopolies have been abolished. Cyprus adopted the euro on January 1, 2008. The process of adopting the single currency with a proven track record of low inflation and price stability helped ensure the anchoring of inflation expectations in a sustainable manner. Moreover, Cyprus’s prospects of joining the monetary union implied a stable economy that fostered certainty for business activities, which in turn boosted trade and strengthened investors’ confidence. Obstacles During the runup to accession and more so following the negative outcome of the referendum on the so-called Annan Plan, many feared that the Cyprus issue would create severe problems for the EU, entangling the Union in a seemingly intractable problem. To what extent have issues such as EU-NATO cooperation and implementation of the Ankara Protocol complicated EU policy and, at the end of the day, does the Commission believe it is «getting through» to Turkey in terms of its carrying out what is, concerning at least the protocol, a basic contractual obligation vis-a-vis the Union? The division of the island has been with us for too long and it is high time it was solved and Cyprus reunited, reconciled and in peace. A comprehensive and viable settlement would be of immense value for the people of Cyprus and also for the EU as a whole. It is now crucial to look toward the future and support the ongoing efforts of the two leaders on Cyprus to find a solution. It would facilitate solving certain issues you mention, such as EU-NATO cooperation. It would also have a positive impact on Cyprus-Turkey relations. The EU has a clear position that we expect Turkey to comply with the Ankara Protocol. Are you preparing for the worst when the time comes, officially at the end of the year, for decisions concerning An-kara’s refusal to apply the protocol? The decision of the EU Council in December 2006 requested the Commission to review the fulfillment of Turkey’s obligations in relation to the Ankara Protocol in the Commission’s annual reports, in particular in 2007, 2008 and 2009, as appropriate. We will do this as requested, and will discuss the situation in the Council at the end of the year. It is too early to speculate on that discussion at this stage. You have called 2009 a decisive year for the Cyprus issue. What is your take on the pace of the ongoing discussions between the two communities on the island? There seems to be minimal progress, with potential further difficulties arising from the recent political developments in the Turkish-Cypriot side. There is a unique window of opportunity to solve the Cyprus issue. The leaders of the two communities are working hard on a solution. They have our full support. I trust that all involved, including the UN, will do their utmost to help contribute to a comprehensive and viable settlement on this 45-year-old conflict on European soil. If you refer to the recent elections of the Turkish-Cypriot community, I do not think its outcome should have a direct bearing on the negotiation process. Mr [Mehmet Ali] Talat, the Turkish-Cypriot leader, is in charge of the negotiation process on the Turkish-Cypriot side. He was clearly elected on a pro-solution ticket. His current mandate runs until April 2010. Negotiations The Commission has regularly declared itself ready and willing to facilitate the negotiations. Exactly how do you perceive this role? Can it be limited to technical assistance on questions such as application of the acquis communautaire or should it be more political? The negotiations on the future settlement are conducted between the two parties under UN auspices. The EU does not intend to become a mediator between the conflict parties. From the EU point of view, it is important to ensure that any solution is in line with the EU’s founding principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and the rule of law. This is why the Commission is ready to contribute to a UN settlement process with its expertise in matters of EU relevance, as and when issues within our competence arise at the request of the parties; we stand ready to offer our advice. How do you juggle your crucial role in Turkey’s accession process as enlargement commissioner with a role of facilitator in resolving the Cyprus issue? As said, neither the Commission nor the EU as a whole plays the role of a facilitator here. We support fully the efforts of the two leaders to find a solution, but we are not directly involved in the business of negotiations. Concerning Turkey, I continue to call on Turkey to lend its full weight and support to the UN-led process. A comprehensive settlement will not only end a long and divisive conflict for all the people on Cyprus, it is also likely to prove a catalyst for Turkey’s progress toward the European Union. In short, everybody really stands to win. And one last question, not on Cyprus. What is, from your perspective, the state of play on the name issue between the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) and Greece? Both sides profess a clear willingness to reach a mutually acceptable solution yet nothing is happening. Why? And are you prepared to propose a date for starting accessions negotiations with that country without a prior resolution of the name issue? I would like to see progress this year in solving the name issue. This is a bilateral problem that has been with us for too long. I strongly encourage the parties to find a solution. Now that the political mandate of the government in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia has been further strengthened, there is also a great expectation that this will be used also in the country’s international relations. Therefore I have encouraged the country to re-engage with Greece in the talks mediated by the United Nations in order to find a solution. The Commission’s proposal to open the negotiations will depend on the country’s preparations toward EU integration, especially meeting the eight benchmarks the EU has given to them. The Commission’s pro-gress report, on which any proposal will be based, is due only in the autumn.