Greek Cyprus warns of snags in EU visa liberalization
Greek Cypriot minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis holds a banner counting down the days until the new EU presidency. (Photo: Today's Zaman)
A Greek Cypriot minister warned on Friday that Turkey's aspirations to introduce a visa-free travel regime with the European Union will face obstacles because of Ankara's refusal to normalize its relations with her country, an EU member.
“Turkey is creating more problems for itself by not recognizing Cyprus. This is something Turkey should deal with urgently. Turkey will create more troubles for itself if it continues with its arrogant and insulting policies,” Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis told Today's Zaman in an interview.
EU member states have recently authorized the EU Commission, the bloc's executive arm, to begin talks with Turkey on visa liberalization. In response, Turkey gave its preliminary approval to a deal with the EU on readmission of illegal immigrants transiting Turkey to reach European countries. The signing of the readmission deal is considered by the EU as a condition for introduction of the visa-free regime.
Kozakou-Marcoullis said Turkey's refusal to have normal ties with her government is an obstacle to implementation of the readmission deal. “Many things are impossible. How can you implement the readmission agreement if you refuse to cooperate with Cypriot authorities?” she asked.
Kozakou-Marcoullis' remarks came as Greek Cyprus prepares to assume the rotating presidency of the EU for the next six months as of July 1. Turkey, which does not recognize Greek Cyprus, says it will suspend dialogue with the EU presidency during the Greek Cypriot term, effectively meaning that Turkish and the EU officials will not be able to open talks on any negotiating chapters for the next six months.
The Greek Cypriot minister said Turkey's boycott decision is “regrettable” and “disappointing,” noting that it is not only her government but the entire EU that tells Turkey that it should respect the EU presidency as a main institution of the 27-nation bloc.
“Turkey continued its threats and has taken very solid position that they do not cooperate with Cyprus presidency. As far as we learn from Turkish press, it seems that Prime Minister [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan has already sent a circular to state institutions in Turkey asking them not respond in any positive way to an invitation from the Cyprus presidency. To be very frank, I feel that Turkey is working against the very interest of Turkey itself,” she said, describing the Turkish policy as “arrogant and aggressive.”
“Turkey is alone in the world; it is the only country that does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus; Republic of Cyprus is a member of the EU, a member of the UN, all international organizations. Telling a union that you want to join that you do not recognize one of its members, boycotting this member… It is a position that definitely does not help Turkey,” she said.
But despite criticism, Kozakou-Marcoullis left the door for dialogue open, saying the Greek Cypriot presidency will reserve a chair for Turkey if it decides to start dialogue with the EU to move forward with its accession negotiations.
“Quoting my colleague from Luxembourg, there is no benefit of an empty chair. There is going to be an empty chair for Turkey when we convening our meetings,” she said. “We would be looking forward to have Turkey in our discussions issues related to its neighborhood and other important policies of the EU,” she added, warning that Turkey's boycott will be counterproductive.
“Definitely Turkey will lose, not us,” she said.
She also said talks could begin on three of 35 negotiating chapters during the Greek Cypriot presidency but added that no progress is possible without dialogue with her government.
“For us, we are ready if Turkey is ready. There are three chapters right now on which we can open talks. If Turkey decides to open, we are ready,” she said.
She also said one of the priorities of the Greek Cypriot presidency will be relations of EU with southern neighbors. “We are also talking about enlargement and how to promote enlargement towards Balkans, towards Iceland and we have Turkey as well. Enlargement is very important policy of EU. We fully support the enlargement.” she said.
Commenting on the economic crisis that battered the whole Europe, she said the crisis in Greek Cyprus is related to Greece economy and the banking system. She noted that Greek Cyprus will be working with EU Commission, Central Bank and IMF, and that her government is fully prepared for the presidency despite the economic crisis.
Greek Cyprus insistent upon gas exploration, defying Ankara's warnings
Greek Cyprus' gas exploration in the eastern Mediterranean has also aggravated tension with Turkey, as Ankara rejects any attempt before finding a final solution to the Cyprus dispute.
Greek Cyprus has rejected Ankara's warnings and started to drill for gas and oil in the Mediterranean. Commenting on the recent situation, she said they have the results from the first exploratory drill, stating that they are very positive.
Kozakou-Marcoullis also commented on improving relations between Greek Cyprus and Israel, saying that the growing cooperation with Israel has no implications for Turkey.
Touching upon media reports suggesting that Israel boosted military cooperation with Greek Cyprus and is preparing to send troops to the island, she argued that reports are nothing but mere reflections of fantasies and stories of journalists who reported them. “Maybe some journalist have some imagination. … This is already refuted by Israel and Cyprus. There is no such thing, military cooperation and sending commandos,” she said.