NEWS

Cyprus comes a step closer to EU

Nicosia and Athens hailed yesterday as an important day as the European Commission published its report recommending that 10 countries, including Cyprus, complete enlargement negotiations at the EU’s December summit in Copenhagen. This brought Cyprus to the penultimate step in the long effort to join the European Union. But Greek Prime Minister Costas Simitis noted that there were still difficulties ahead. This was a reference to the fact that the final decision depends on a political choice to be made by EU heads of state and government in Copenhagen. Furthermore, Turkey, which was not granted a date on which its own accession talks would start, has repeatedly warned that Cyprus’s EU entry without a prior solution to the island’s division could mean permanent division. «The first chapter in Cyprus’s accession ends positively,» Simitis said after a meeting with President Costis Stephanopoulos, who had said that yesterday was «a significant day, without doubt.» «Now comes the second chapter: the negotiations for the preparations of the European Council in Copenhagen,» Simitis added. «These are talks which will, of course, be affected by possible difficulties, which the other side will create or will want to create. It is a difficult time. It is a time in which we must all be especially careful. It is a time, I want to stress, where we need national unity. There must be no petty political exploitation and loud voices.» Simitis presented yesterday’s success as the result of hard work by Athens and Nicosia. «It took a lot of hard work, both by the Greek government and Cypriot government, so that we could make clear that Cyprus would not be the hostage of another country,» he said. Cypriot government spokesman Michalis Papapetrou said Cyprus had worked hard to achieve this «significant day in its history.» And he too cautioned that «it is not yet time to celebrate.» Greece’s opposition New Democracy party spokesman, Theodoris Roussopoulos, said that the Commission’s report «constitutes the reward for the efforts by the Republic of Cyprus, which managed to fulfill today all the criteria set by the EU.» He stressed that «what is certain is that the accession of the whole of Cyprus – as with the German example – can and must take place during the Greek presidency (of the EU next year), irrespective of a solution of the political problem.» He added that «this decision by the 15 can neither be invalidated nor delayed by the reaction of any third party.» But Turkish Foreign Minister Sukru Sina Gurel declared, «I hope there’s still room to find a solution but I’m afraid that the EU with all its declarations and decisions has been limiting that prospect,» he told Reuters. «The EU has been the side which has been discouraging the Greek Cypriots from finding a solution at the table and I’m afraid if the EU goes on the same track they will be finalizing the division of the island, shutting the door to any possibility of a solution and putting the stamp of the EU on that,» he said. Commission President Romano Prodi said: «Let us hope for real progress toward reunification of the island, even though the conclusions of the Helsinki European Council do not make it a precondition for entry. The Commission wants a reunited Cyprus to join the EU and believes this is the best solution for all.» He urged everyone to support the UN secretary-general’s effort «so that we can get a solution before the year’s end.»  The other countries named in the report yesterday are the Czech and Slovak republics, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland and Slovenia.