Cyprus on Wednesday described the European Commission’s annual progress report on Turkey as “the most critical” since Ankara opened accession negotiations with the bloc in 2005.
According to the EU’s report, Turkey has made no progress in normalising relations with Cyprus and it repeated Brussels’ call to Ankara to refrain from illegal acts in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone (EEZ), reconfirming that it would respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus.
The commission listed a litany of shortcomings by the government of President Tayyip Erdogan, and especially “serious backsliding” when it came to human and fundamental rights within the country.
“The European Commission report is perhaps the most critical issued since the opening of accession negotiations in 2005,” the Cyprus foreign ministry said in a statement later Wednesday.
“It records the further deterioration in European standards in Turkey, in particular as regards the rule of law, fundamental freedoms, independence of the judiciary, the reform of public administration, freedom of expression, and the economy.” the foreign ministry added.
“Despite public statements and commitments of the country’s leadership on the [EU] integration process, this [report] exposes the non-fulfillment of obligations that is taking Turkey further away from the EU and makes the opening of new negotiating chapters impossible.”
On Cyprus, the report said that although Turkey welcomed the UN’s renewed efforts to consult stakeholders as to a possible resumption of negotiations regarding Cyprus, tensions in the region around the prospect of hydrocarbon exploration off the coast of Cyprus increased, due to Turkey’s actions and statements challenging the right of the Republic of Cyprus to exploit hydrocarbon resources in its EEZ.
“In May 2019, Turkey sent a drilling platform accompanied by military vessels to the Republic of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone, escalating tensions further,” the report said.
“The European Commission recalls the European Council statement of March 2018 strongly condemning Turkey’s continued illegal actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Aegean Sea. It also recalled Turkey’s obligation to respect international law and good neighbourly relations and called on Turkey to respect the sovereign rights of Cyprus to explore and exploit its natural resources in accordance with EU and International Law,” the report added.
In March 2019, it said, the EU called on Turkey to refrain from any such illegal acts, to which it would respond appropriately and in full solidarity with Cyprus.
“The EU has repeatedly stressed the sovereign rights of EU Member States, which include entering into bilateral agreements and exploring and exploiting their natural resources in accordance with the EU acquis and international law, including the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea,” said the report.
The report also referred to the February 2018 incident when the Turkish navy undertook repeated manoeuvres to block the drilling operations of a vessel contracted by Italian company ENI, which resulted in the abortion of the planned drilling activities.
“Cyprus notes as very positive the fact that the report records the unlawful actions of Turkey within the EEZ of Cyprus, and notes the strong condemnation of these actions by the European Council and the fact that the EU has reiterated its position that will react to Turkey’s illegal actions appropriately and in full solidarity with the Republic of Cyprus,” the foreign ministry said.
The commission’s report also said that as emphasised in the negotiating framework and council declarations, Turkey was expected to actively support the negotiations on a fair, comprehensive and viable settlement of the Cyprus issue within the UN framework, in accordance with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions and in line with the principles on which the EU is founded.
“It is important to preserve the progress made so far and to pursue preparations for a fair, comprehensive and viable settlement, including in its external aspects,” said the report.
“Turkey’s commitment and contribution in concrete terms to this comprehensive settlement remains crucial,” the commission said.
The report also delved into deeper aspects of the Cyprus issue saying the process of granting the Committee on Missing Persons (CMP) full access to all relevant archives and military areas had seen welcome developments, “but needs to be further expedited”.
It added that Turkey had still not fulfilled its obligation to ensure “full and non‑discriminatory” implementation of the Additional Protocol to the EU-Turkey Association Agreement and had not removed all the obstacles to the free movement of goods, including restrictions on direct transport links with Cyprus.
“There was no progress on normalising bilateral relations with the Republic of Cyprus,” the report said.
It also said there had been repeated and increased violations of the territorial waters and airspaces of Greece and Cyprus by Turkey, and that the lack of adequate communication between air traffic control centres in Turkey and Cyprus continued to compromise air safety in the Nicosia flight information region, requiring an operational solution.
As long as restrictions remain in place on vessels and aircraft registered in Cyprus, related to Cyprus, or whose last port of call was Cyprus, ”Turkey will not be in a position to fully implement the acquis relating to this chapter [transport]”, the Commission said.
Turkey had also continued to veto applications by the Republic of Cyprus to join several international organisations, including the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the report said.
“The report records yet again the complete lack of progress in the obligations of Turkey to Cyprus,” said the foreign ministry statement.
It said the government was studying in depth the content of the report, which would be circulated within the competent EU institutions in view of Turkey’s accession process evaluation in June by the EU Council, which will issue its conclusions.