Cyprus says cannot lift veto on Turkey's EU talks

ATHENS (Reuters) - Cyprus said on Monday it would not end its veto of Turkey’s accession negotiations with the European Union, potentially scuppering EU leaders’ plans to “re-energize” the talks in return for Ankara’s help in tackling Europe’s migrant crisis.

Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides gestures during an interview with Reuters in Jerusalem June 15, 2015. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

The conflict-divided east Mediterranean island has a long list of grievances against Turkey, its giant northern neighbor. It has blocked the accession talks for several years citing the presence of Turkish troops in the breakaway Turkish-speaking north of the island.

“The reasons they (the negotiations) were frozen have not ceased to exist,” Cypriot Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides told Greek state broadcaster NET.

“As things presently stand, we cannot give our consent (to their resumption).”

EU leaders last week pledged renewed consideration of the long-stalled accession talks with Ankara, cash and easier visa terms in return for its help in tackling a migration crisis that has seen hundreds of thousands of people fleeing conflicts and poverty in the Middle East and Africa pour into Europe.

Almost half a million people, including many Syrians fleeing war in their homeland, have entered Europe this year, mainly crossing from Turkey to EU member Greece. Turkey itself has provided shelter for some 2.2 million Syrian refugees.

Kasoulides referred specifically to two ‘chapters’, or policy areas, in the accession negotiations which Cyprus has vetoed, concerning the judiciary and fundamental rights, and justice, freedom and security.

Cyprus, an EU member state since 2004, has been split along ethnic lines since a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek inspired coup.


Out of the 35 chapters Turkey must conclude as part of its accession negotiations, Cyprus has blocked six. These include energy, where Turkey has attempted to challenge Cyprus’s right to explore for oil and gas in a region which has recently yielded some of the world’s biggest natural gas finds in a decade.

Apart from Cyprus, some other EU member states have been at best lukewarm about the possible future admission of Turkey, a large, mainly Muslim nation that borders unstable, conflict-riven countries such as Syria and Iraq.

The EU considers the Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia to represent the whole island, while only Ankara recognizes the breakaway administration in northern Cyprus.

On-off peace talks over the years to reunite the island as a federation have failed, but diplomats say a present round of talks are showing encouraging signs of progress.

Kasoulides, who was in Athens to address an interfaith conference, said talks had not yet reached the stage where the sides had ‘mirror image’ positions, but said he was hopeful of progress as talks went on.

A former British colony, Cyprus has a complex governance system where Britain, Greece and Turkey are ‘guarantors’ of the island in the event of a disruption to constitutional order. Cyprus wants to abolish those guarantees, used as a pretext for military intervention in the past.

“These guarantees cannot be accepted as a means to make either Greek or Turkish Cypriots feel safe,” Kasoulides said.

Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Gareth Jones