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Media Watch 2004

04 October 2004
Source: Sunday Mail
Author: Simon Bahceli and Stefanos Evripidou
Comment: The following article appeared in the Sunday Mail of Nicosia on 3 October 2004.
Talat: customs union is 'bitter news'
"The agreement is seen by many as the first step towards Turkey’s eventual recognition of the Republic..."

TURKISH Cypriot ‘prime minister’ Mehmet Ali Talat yesterday described Turkey’s decision to sign a customs union with the Republic of Cyprus as “bitter news”, but admitted Ankara had had little choice in the matter on the eve of a key EU report on Turkey’s prospects for accession

Speaking to the Sunday Mail, Talat reacted with weary resignation as Turkey signed the customs union with Cyprus yesterday, describing it as a “pyrrhic victory” for President Tassos Papadopoulos and his government.

The agreement is seen by many as the first step towards Turkey’s eventual recognition of the Republic – something it must do in order to boost its chances of getting a date from the EU for the start of accession negotiations to the bloc.

The news casts a long shadow over Turkey’s recognition of the breakaway state and will undoubtedly have long-term implications for it relations with the north.

“This is bitter news,” Talat told the Sunday Mail. “It was expected, but of course, this did not happen with the willingness of Turkey, but through necessity,” he added.

Talat warned Papadopoulos not to view the agreement as a foreign policy victory for Cyprus: “I don’t think Papadopoulos should be so cheerful about it as it is not an indication of the betterment of relations between Turkish and Greek Cypriots.”

Turkey took a step closer to meeting its international obligations yesterday by signing the customs union agreement with Cyprus, adding the final piece of the puzzle to a customs union that was supposed to include all EU countries from May 1.

After EU enlargement, Cyprus became the only new member state not party to the customs union due to Turkey’s refusal to recognise the Cyprus Republic.

Government Spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides said yesterday a customs union between the two countries was always on the cards, since the Accession Treaty obliged Turkey to extend the union to all new member states.

Commenting on the agreement, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry highlighted that regulation of its internal laws did not constitute recognition of the Republic of Cyprus.

The ministry announcement said Turkey maintained the positions it expressed immediately after Cyprus’ accession to the EU. Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul had previously stated that in the event Turkey did agree to extend the customs union with Cyprus, this would not constitute recognition.

The statement reminded that Cyprus was obliged under the Accession Treaty to accept Turkish imports. “The Greek Cypriot administration has already moved to end the restrictions on Turkish products by an order given on December 11, 1998,” it concluded.

The ministry confirmed its ties and special relationship with the breakaway state in the north of Cyprus, adding that the EU has yet to realise its pledge to end the ‘isolation’ of the Turkish Cypriots.

The ministry noted that the EU announced the intention to pass regulations on financial assistance and direct trade on July 7, 2004 but, no positive steps had been taken by an EU member state since then.

Turkish newspaper Hurriyet described the decision to extend the customs union as “historic”."