By Stefanos Evripidou
UNDER fire, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday drew a chorus of criticism from Cypriot politicians over his statement in Brussels that Turkey will only accept a federal solution based on “two founding states” on the island.
Erdogan made the comment during a joint press briefing at the Espace Leopold building with European Parliament (EP) President Martin Schulz on Tuesday.
During the conference, Schulz said Erdogan and the heads of the political groups within the EP had a “lively” and “intense” discussion on a range of issues including the rule of law, freedom of expression and independence of the judiciary.
Speaking to reporters, Erdogan said during his visit to Brussels that he refused to listen to proposals for the withdrawal of Turkish troops from Cyprus, noting that this was offered in the Annan plan ten years ago but was rejected by the Greek Cypriots.
He added it was a mistake to let Cyprus join the EU after the Annan plan rejection.
On the current peace talks, he claimed Turkey has always been constructive in its support to the Turkish Cypriots, calling on Greece to do the same with the Greek Cypriots.
“Our fundamental principle is a federal structure based on two founding states. The acceptance of anything outside this is in any case out of the question,” he was quoted by Turkish Cypriot media as saying. For his part, Schulz commented that the Republic of Cyprus joined the EU representing the entire island, and called on Erdogan to accept this situation.
Earlier in the day, the heads of the European Commission and Council, Jose Manuel Barroso and Herman Van Rompuy, both called on Erdogan to help push a Cyprus solution forward.
Phileleftheros reported on Wednesday that the Turkish PM had asked the heads of the EU institutions to work on lifting Cyprus’ veto on opening accession negotiation chapters 23 on the judiciary and fundamental rights, and 24 on justice, freedom and security.
Despite the heavy pressure back home with increasing civic unrest and pressing questions over his meddling in judicial independence, Erdogan did not portray the image of a leader in crisis, at least publicly.
The Turkish PM has come under fire in recent months for his heavy-handed response to public demonstrations over a development project in Istanbul’s Gezi park. More recently, his response to a corruption probe, resulting in the mass removal or transfer of senior police and legal officials, has raised questions in Brussels as to his democratic credentials as the leader of an EU candidate country.
On Cyprus, Erdogan has not budged an inch from his initial stance, refusing to fully implement a customs union with the EU to include Cyprus, while failing to include the island member state in a recent landmark EU-Turkey agreement on the readmission of irregular migrants.
In recent controversial statements, Erdogan went so far as to publicly doubt the existence of a country called Cyprus.
At the same time, Turkey’s EU accession path has been moving at a snail’s pace following increased focus on its eastern neighbourhood. However, the AKP government’s foreign policy successes are debatable in recent years. The detente with Armenia and the Kurds is on hold, relations with the new Egyptian government and key US ally Israel remain strained, while Turkey’s support for the Syrian rebels against the Assad regime has failed to bring solid results.
Responding to Erdogan’s apparent red line on “two founding states” in Cyprus, coalition partner DIKO spokeswoman Christiana Erotocritou said his statements should help bring down to earth those wishful thinkers who believe Erdogan wants a solution.
Junior government partner EVROKO’s deputy head Michalis Giorgallas called on Greek Cypriots to put an end to the illusion that Ankara is ready to cooperate for a bizonal federation, arguing that the ‘bizonal’ element is being used to firmly establish partition and two ethnic states in Cyprus.
House President and EDEK leader Yiannakis Omirou said Erdogan’s “performance of intransigence and provocation” in Brussels once again revealed Turkey’s true intentions.
Greens leader Giorgos Perdikis called on the political leadership to take its head out the sand: “Mr Erdogan could not have been clearer. And the fact his statements were made in the heart of the EU have even greater weight.”
Citizens’ Alliance leader Giorgos Lillikas said President Nicos Anastasiades’ policy to appease Turkey with concessions on the joint communiqué and in opening new accession chapters has “collapsed like a house of cards”.
For its part, ruling DISY said through its spokeswoman Stavriana Kofteros that it categorically rejected the notion that any kind of federal solution would come about from two “founding states”.