Greek Cyprus might harm EU migration talks, Bağış warns

Greek Cyprus might harm EU migration talks, Bağış warns

Egemen Bağış

December 24, 2009, Thursday/ 16:52:00/ BÜLENT KENEŞ
Turkey's chief European Union negotiator warned yesterday that Greek Cypriot blockage of EU accession talks might hinder negotiations between Ankara and the 27-nation bloc on the readmission of illegal immigrants.

Greek Cyprus, an EU member since 2004, declared after an EU meeting earlier this month that it would veto accession talks on five of the 35 negotiating chapters due to Turkey's refusal to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot ships and planes. Among these five chapters is the freedom, justice and security chapter, which includes issues related to the readmission of illegal immigrants.

The Greek Cypriot veto of talks on this chapter at a time when Turkey and the EU are involved in “constructive dialogue” is “tantamount to the Greek Cypriot administration shooting the EU and itself in the foot,” chief negotiator Egemen Bağış told journalists in İstanbul. “The Turkish authorities will assess this unwise attitude of the Greek Cypriot administration in the course of talks with the EU on readmission.”

Tens of thousands of illegal immigrants are believed to go to Europe via Turkey. Turkish authorities apprehended approximately 65,000 illegal immigrants in 2008. The readmission agreement discussed between Turkish and EU officials envisages sending immigrants back to their countries of origin via Turkey.

The EU and Turkey have long been at odds over this critical issue. The EU alleges that Turkey is not doing enough to tackle illegal immigration coming from the East, especially from Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East, claiming the country has failed to fulfill its promises to repatriate illegal immigrants who pass through Turkey and are later detained in EU member states. Turkey, on the other hand, needs the assistance of the EU to establish a reliable system and to ease worries of whether all detained immigrants will be sent back after the agreement is signed. Bağış was speaking at a meeting during which he announced a new communication strategy to boost EU membership efforts.

Turkey and the EU launched accession negotiations on the environment chapter in Brussels on Monday, bringing the number of chapters on which talks have begun to 12. The EU suspended accession talks on eight chapters in 2006 due to the Cyprus ports row. France, which is opposed to Turkish membership, later announced it would veto talks on five chapters directly related to accession. The latest Greek Cypriot veto leaves only a few chapters available for negotiation.

Bağış called on the EU to cleanse the negotiation process -- which is supposed to proceed on the basis of neutral EU standards to regulate all walks of life in member countries -- of political factors, lamenting that the process is stymied by “political calculations” in some EU member countries.

He did, however, emphasize that Turkey remains committed to EU membership efforts, saying the accession process is a “historic opportunity to transform Turkey’s political, economic and social life.” Bağış also welcomed the EU’s Lisbon Treaty and the new EU Commission coming into force.

The chief EU negotiator reiterated Turkey’s demands for the lifting of visa requirements for Turkish citizens, saying member countries are obliged to implement a ruling made early this year by the European Court of Justice, which called for visa exemptions for Turks in line with a 1963 agreement between Turkey and the EU.

More steps in Kurdish initiative

In comments on the government’s Kurdish initiative, Bağış said new steps, including opening Kurdish institutes in universities, establishing a state body to fight discrimination and an independent human rights board, restoring the former names of Kurdish towns and villages and lifting obstacles to election campaigns in Kurdish are on the way.

Bağış also criticized the closure of the main pro-Kurdish party, the Democratic Society Party (DTP), saying his government does not approve the banning of any political party that operates within democratic boundaries and in line with respect for the rule of law.

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