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Media Watch 2006

03 November 2006
Source: Cyprus Weekly
Comment: The following article appeared in the Cyprus Weekly of Nicosia on 3 November 2006.
Finland cancels Cyprus-Turkey meeting
"…the [Cyprus] President said: "For the meeting to take place, Turkey must first state that it agrees to the return of the fenced off part of Varosha to its lawful inhabitants". He stressed that according to UN resolutions, Turkey was held responsible for Famagusta and Varosha."

"European Union president Finland yesterday cancelled an urgent meeting with the Foreign Ministers of Cyprus and Turkey, which it had called to prevent the collapse of Turkey’s already troubled EU membership talks.

The meeting was to have been held in Helsinki on Sunday and Monday.

"We were unable to get everybody around the same table," said Mikko Norros, a spokesman for the Finnish government.

Diplomats said Turkey declined to attend, irked that fellow Cyprus guarantor power Greece had not been invited and fearing it would be pressured into making one-sided concessions.

No chance

"There is no chance for a meeting in Helsinki", Susanna Parkkonen, a spokesman for Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, told Reuters, after days of intensive contacts.

"We will continue negotiations at a political level from now on", she said, adding that Tuomioja would meet Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat in Brussels on Friday.

The Finnish Foreign Minister had hoped to broker a meeting to discuss a trade and ports deal on Cyprus, before the executive European Commission publishes its next progress report on Turkey’s efforts to meet EU membership criteria.

That report, due next Wednesday, is widely expected to show Ankara is making no significant progress in either political reforms or in normalising relations with EU member Cyprus.

"Our aim has been to find a solution that enables the uninterrupted continuation of Turkey’s accession negotiations and improve the situation of both communities in Cyprus," Tuomioja said in a statement.

"We have a few weeks left to find a solution, although we had hoped to make progress before the release of the Turkey report," she said.

However, he stressed that Finland, which holds the rotating EU chair, would continue to work for progress on the issue.

Officials would not disclose details of the Finnish formula and President Papadopoulos said earlier yesterday: "There are certain ideas being floated, but there is no final conclusion, they are taking soundings."

Asked about the proposed meeting in Helsinki, the President said: "For the meeting to take place, Turkey must first state that it agrees to the return of the fenced off part of Varosha to its lawful inhabitants".

He stressed that according to UN resolutions, Turkey was held responsible for Famagusta and Varosha. "If Mr Erdogan (the Turkish Prime Minister) wants to include Mr Talat in the Turkish delegation it is his problem," he added.

He explained that the Turkish Cypriot leader had no role or authority to deal with Varosha.

Reports said Finland was proposing a trade-off under which Turkey would open some ports to Cypriot shipping - as it is obliged to do under its customs union with the 25-nation bloc.

In parallel, the Turkish Cypriots would be allowed to export goods directly to the EU from the port of Famagusta under EU supervision, and Greek Cypriots would be able to rebuild the abandoned resort of Varosha under UN administration.

Neither side rejected the Finnish plan - which had not been officially put on paper - but they both sought changes.

Turkish Cypriots asked that it should include opening an airport (Ercan/Tymbou), now under Turkish control, which the Greek Cypriots categorically rejected. Direct flights are not part of the discussions, a government source said in Nicosia.

The Greek Cypriots wanted clearer guarantees that the Greek Cypriot inhabitants of Varosha would get their homes back. The Nicosia government made it clear that the return of Varosha should be part of any deal.

Foreign Minister Giorgos Lillikas said as a first step, the ghost city could be handed to the UN, while reconstruction work was carried out. Estimates put the cost at around T4b.

The Associated Press said the Helsinki talks fell through because Ankara wanted the EU to end the ‘isolation’ of the breakaway state and negotiate with that regime.

Yesterday’s announcement was another setback to Turkey’s bid to joint he EU. It opened membership talks in October 2005.

But since then opposition has grown, notably in France and Germany, to bringing a large, poor, Muslim nation to the bloc, especially one that is slow to embrace basic political reforms and effectively refuses to recognise EU member Cyprus.

Turkish bond prices fell on the news, with traders saying market hopes of a deal appeared to have been dashed for now.

"This is very unfortunate because it would have given Turkey and Cyprus an opportunity to move ahead into next year and get out of this stalemate situation," said an emerging markets economist in Vienna.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul had urged Finland to use shuttle diplomacy, instead of trying to organise a joint meeting at foreign ministers level. . He said he expected continued close contact with the EU presidency and reaffirmed Ankara’s support for a comprehensive Cyprus settlement under UN auspices.

"Finland has struggled in good faith to achieve a meeting, but unfortunately they could not create an atmosphere in which such a positive step could be taken", Gul added.

Talat criticised the linking of Turkey’s EU bid to the Cyprus problem and called the Finnish plan unfair. He also challenged the EU’s authority to solve the Cyprus problem.

"We are calling for the lifting of the isolation of Turkish Cypriots not in return for anything given to Greek Cypriots," he added, during a stop-over in Istanbul.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn had urged Turkey and the Turkish Cypriots to accept the Finnish initiative as the best way to avoid a "train crash" in Ankara’s EU bid."