By George Psyllides
The government is waging a tough battle in Brussels to safeguard the island’s interests as Turkey seeks to take advantage of the need to resolve the migrant issue by making demands over its EU accession that cross what are considered to be red lines by Cyprus.
A summit between the EU and Turkey is scheduled for today in Brussels as the bloc hopes to strike an agreement to stem the flow of migrants into Europe.
However, apart from other demands, Turkey wants to resume its stalled accession negotiations and wants the joint statement to include specific reference to opening five chapters that were unilaterally frozen by the Republic in 2009.
The European Commission supports Turkey, but Nicosia has made it clear that it would not agree to such a text. Cyprus has the support of France and other member states, including the UK.
Cypriot sources in Brussels said the UK’s support came as a surprise.
Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, is of the opinion that member-states’ reasonable concerns must be supported.
Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said the government was working to secure the Republic’s positions, especially as regards Turkey’s accession course.
Speaking from Malta, Christodoulides said it was up to Turkey to decide whether its accession course would progress.
The Republic is blocking the opening of six chapters – 2-Freedom of Movement for Workers, 15-Energy, 23-Judiciary and Fundamental Rights, 24-Justice, Freedom and Security, 26-Education and Culture, 31-Foreign, Security and Defence Policy.
An additional eight chapters have been blocked by the EU because Turkey refuses to extend the Ankara Protocol to include Cyprus – opening its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic.
Cyprus is not the only country that disagrees with opening new chapters.
France is blocking five chapters and Greece has also frozen the one on external policy.
“It is not just the Republic’s position,” Christodoulides said. “The accession course of any state is an intergovernmental procedure and to advance it would require the agreement of all 28 member states.”
The Commission has so far prepared two drafts of the joint statement, which Cyprus did not accept.
Christodoulides said he expected the draft to change though sources in Brussels did not rule out not having a joint statement after all.
On Friday night, the UK, Sweden and Finland wrote a letter in which they argued about Turkey’s importance in helping to resolve the migration crisis but that it should not be in any way linked to the accession procedure.
The chapters were not the only stumbling block ahead of today’s summit.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a driving force behind seeking Turkish help in easing the refugee crisis, has faced criticism from EU allies for encouraging Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to increase his demands.
A senior German official stressed on Friday that Ankara also had much to gain from greater cooperation.
Bolstered by the victory of his AK party in a parliamentary election earlier this month, Erdogan re-appointed Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and, EU officials and diplomats say, Turkey is now driving a hard bargain – notably seeking €3b per year instead of the EU offer of the same amount over two.
“There are things that can still go wrong. It’s not a simple negotiation. Among the 28 member states, there are different sensibilities about Turkey, then with Turkey itself a dialogue needs to be found,” a senior EU official said on Friday. “It’s always possible there won’t be an agreement.”
President Nicos Anastasiades and Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides, in Malta for a commonwealth meeting, were scheduled to fly to Brussels today.