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Our View: Standing firm, president still finds himself in difficult position over EU-Turkey deal

THE RESOLVE shown by President Anastasiades at yesterday’s meeting in Nicosia with the President of the European Council Donald Tusk was commendable. He stuck to his oft-repeated position that he would not consent to the opening of five chapters in Turkey’s accession negotiations unless Turkey fulfilled its obligations regarding Cyprus.

Eight chapters were blocked by the European Council in 2006 because of Turkey’s refusal to honour the additional protocol to the Ankara Agreement and allow Cyprus-flagged ships and planes to use its ports and airports; six more were blocked in 2009 by Cyprus because Ankara refused to recognise the Cyprus Republic, which it had described in its official documents as “defunct”.

Anastasiades, speaking at a news conference after his meeting with Tusk, said: “I conveyed to president Tusk our position that the Republic of Cyprus does not intend to consent to the opening of any chapters if Turkey does not fulfil its obligations as described in the negotiating framework.” He knew his stance could bring him into confrontation with Turkey, even though this was “the last thing we are looking for particularly at this critical phase of the negotiations.”

In public Tusk was supportive of Anastasiades, saying “no third country could ever be more important to me than any of our member-states.” He did however put a positive spin on a difficult situation, saying the current dynamics offered an opportunity to re-energise EU-Turkey relations. He did not explain how this would happen, given Nicosia’s stance but much would depend on his talks with Prime Minister Davutoglu in Turkey, which was his next stop.

There has been talk of opposition to the Turkey-EU deal over the refugees, bashed out by Chancellor Merkel and Davutoglu privately, among EU members which could partly explain Anastasiades’ resolute stand. It is difficult to see him taking such a tough stance – even though he has right on his side – if there were no divisions in the Union and he expected all the members, with the exception Greece, turning the screw on Cyprus.

This could still be done at the Thursday-Friday European Summit if Germany pushes hard for ratification of the deal with Turkey, which would include the opening of negotiating chapters. If Anastasiades stands firm – something that would not be easy – there may be some compromise that is the EU way of doing things. The opening of the chapters may be delayed by a few months in the hope there was a deal on the Cyprus problem or perhaps Anastasiades would consent to the opening of a single chapter as a goodwill gesture. Much will depend on how convinced the big EU member-states are that the proposed deal with Turkey would effectively tackle the refugee crisis.

One thing is certain. Anastasiades is not relishing the position he finds himself in over the refugee crisis. He had a point when he said yesterday: “It is unwarranted, counter-productive and not to mention unacceptable to shift the burden of responsibility for the migration crisis on my shoulders, or on the shoulders of the Cyprus Republic.”

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