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EU: Cyprus Wraps Up Accession Talks, Island's Political Future Hangs In Balance

Cyprus yesterday became the first European Union candidate country to informally conclude accession negotiations with the bloc by accepting the financial terms on offer. The deal will be finalized at the EU's Copenhagen summit on 12-13 December. Meanwhile, last-gasp efforts continue under the aegis of the United Nations to bring the island's Greek and Turkish communities together to allow Cyprus to enter the EU as a single political entity, and thus remove a major obstacle on the path of improved EU-Turkish relations.

Brussels, 3 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Although Cyprus's chief negotiator at European Union accession talks, George Vassiliou, yesterday professed "100 percent solidarity" with the other candidate nations, his country's acceptance of the entry terms offered by the EU's Danish presidency will be seen by many as weakening the case of those still holding out.

The deal struck by Cyprus will also boost Denmark's efforts to win full support for last week's compromise offer among the present net contributors to the EU's budget, who, headed by Germany, still contest some of the concessions.

It will also strengthen Cyprus's case in the face of considerable skepticism by some EU member states over whether the country should be admitted before its Greek and Turkish communities have reached a lasting political settlement.

Vassiliou yesterday said a week's fine-tuning of the Danish offer had been enough for his country. "We're pleased to announce that we have concluded negotiations on agriculture -- which, as we know, was the most important chapter for all candidate countries. And we have also practically concluded negotiations on the budget issues. When I say practically, I mean we have agreed on all issues of principle, but there are some minor calculations [still] to be remade, and we will finish them tomorrow morning."

This means, Vassiliou said, that Cyprus has effectively closed accession talks with the EU, and that the result will be formally announced at next week's meeting of EU and candidate foreign ministers in Brussels. He said the EU's offer on agriculture satisfies the demands of Cyprus's farming sector for milk-production quotas, support premiums for cattle and sheep, and aid to wine makers. Vassiliou said he was assured by the EU that in the event the other candidates should manage to improve the terms, the deal with Cyprus will be automatically modified to include them.

Cyprus also received guarantees that it would be no worse off in the first years of membership than in 2003. In practice, this means the EU has committed itself to paying Cyprus 16 million euros more annually in 2004 to 2006 than it receives in compulsory budget contributions from Nicosia.

Vassiliou said the agreement with the EU only refers to areas controlled by the Greek Cypriot government, but said he had been given assurances that should last-gasp UN mediation efforts yield a settlement with the island's Turkish community, the EU would be able to modify the deal with Cyprus "very quickly" to extend it to the Turkish side.

Vassiliou said it is impossible to say if a settlement can be reached before the 12-13 December summit in Copenhagen. "I honestly don't know because I don't know what is the final position the Turkish side will take. What I can assure you is that on our side, we are very much willing and ready to move on to a solution. Of course, unfortunately Turkey and [Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf] Denktash have been very late in answering. They have wasted a lot of time. Now they have answered that they accept the 'Annan Plan' [named after UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan] as a basis for negotiation, and there is a possibility that they may be willing to move fast."

A solution would greatly ease Cyprus's passage into the EU, although at their Helsinki summit three years ago, EU leaders committed themselves to admitting the island even if it should remain divided. It would also help untangle the EU's complicated relationship with Turkey. Ankara has been denying the bloc's defense project access to vital NATO assets while also demanding a start date for its own accession negotiations and has threatened to annex Turkish northern Cyprus if only the Greek part joins the EU. To complicate things further, Greece has threatened to veto enlargement if Cyprus is not in the first wave.

Vassiliou said yesterday that it is up to Turkey to move and agree to a "foundation agreement" at the Copenhagen summit making Cyprus a single, if loose, federal state. Detailed negotiations would then follow until a final deal could be signed on 28 February. "It's obvious from what I've heard that Turkey is under pressure to prove that it is willing to move on the political [EU entry] criteria of Copenhagen. The best way for Turkey to show its goodwill is to move on Cyprus. So let us hope that they will do it."