The Cyprus test

Prime Minister George Papandreou’s visit to Cyprus next Monday is not only symbolic but is a political test, as Athens and Nicosia will be trying to forge a common stance in view of the December European Union summit that will decide the future of Turkey’s candidacy for membership. The compromise reached by the German government partners (Christian Democrats and Liberals) not to raise the question of breaking off Turkey’s accession talks is an indication that this option will not be raised at the EU summit either. The US and British promoters of Turkey’s membership are doing what they can to keep the talks going despite Ankara’s lack of progress in making reforms. In order to avert the imposition of sanctions against Turkey, they are pressing for an additional six-month reprieve, hoping that by June a solution will be found for Cyprus, or at the very least an interim framework agreement they can invoke to obtain the extension. Papandreou and Cypriot President Dimitris Christofias both want Turkey in the EU, but on the condition it fulfills its commitments. Although the Erdogan government has signed the EU customs union protocol with the Cyprus Republic, it has stated it will not implement it. The ball is in the EU’s court, and directly in front of those most affected – Nicosia and Athens. Papandreou is referring to the road map for the Turkish candidacy, but Ankara is refusing to use it. So now the question is how Greece and Cyprus will react. Christofias is seen as «conciliatory» but appears to be convinced that if he does not react, Nicosia will lose the advantage it has in its EU membership. Under pressure from his partners in government, he seems to be considering a freeze on accession talks until Turkey fulfills its commitments. This need not affect talks on a solution to the Cyprus problem. These are two separate procedures. Will Papandreou side with Nicosia or will he press it to accept the six-month extension wanted by the Americans and British?