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EU: Collapse Of Cyprus Talks May Bring Post-Enlargement Complications

Brussels, 11 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- The European Commission today issued a statement lamenting the failure of the United Nations-sponsored Cyprus peace talks.

The statement, read today by the commission's enlargement spokesman, Jean-Christophe Filori, says the collapse of the talks will not affect the accession of the Greek part of the island scheduled for next year.

"While such a settlement was the preference of the European Union, the Commission confirms that the accession process will go ahead as foreseen according to the existing timetable," Filori said. "All the necessary preliminary legal steps have been taken to permit this."

The EU first said the reunification of the island is not a precondition for accession at its Helsinki summit in December 1999. That commitment was repeated in Copenhagen last December.

Filori said today the signing of the accession treaties with the 10 candidates scheduled to join next year would go ahead as planned on 16 April. One of the signatories, he said, would be "Cyprus as we know it today" -- that is, the government of the Greek part of the island with its seat in Nicosia.

The commission noted in its statement that the UN peace plan "remains on the table," and said the EU is ready to assist any further efforts at reaching a settlement.

According to Filori, the accession treaty to be signed by Cyprus can be amended later to include the northern, Turkish part of the island.

The commission statement specifically notes that Turkey "in particular" is encouraged to "strive to achieve a settlement."

Filori today repeated a warning issued by EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen 10 days ago that Turkey cannot start membership negotiations with the EU as long as it refuses to recognize the legitimate government.

EU leaders deferred a decision at their Copenhagen summit on whether to give Turkey a starting date for membership talks, asking instead for the European Commission to assess in late 2004 whether Turkey has made sufficient progress with its political reforms to warrant such a move.

Filori stressed, however, that reforms by themselves are not enough to guarantee the opening of entry talks: "If by the time the European Commission presents its report on Turkey at the end of 2004, if by this moment there is still no settlement on Cyprus, we will be facing this rather weird situation where one of the candidate countries knocking at the door does not recognize one of our own member states. It appears difficult in this situation to envisage the start of accession negotiations with Turkey."

Nevertheless, Filori said the commission will continue to "strongly support" Turkey in its efforts to comply with EU accession criteria. The commission also remains convinced that a "significant rise" in aid to Turkey is a necessary part of that support.

Filori said the commission is currently working on more detailed suggestions which it will make public in a few weeks' time. He noted that EU leaders have authorized the commission to "at least double" the 177 million euros that Turkey receives annually.

However, Filori did say today that if the "political complications" involving Cyprus and Turkey worsen, the EU "might have to reconsider" its attitude.

The EU has also promised the Turkish part of Cyprus about 260 million euros between 2004-2006, which will only become available once the island is reunified.

Filori admitted today that the accession of a divided Cyprus threatens the EU itself with a plethora of serious legal problems, which have yet to be fully assessed and analyzed by Brussels.

He said the EU -- like the rest of the international community with the exception of Turkey -- recognizes the Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia as the sole legitimate representative of Cyprus. The northern part of the island is considered to be under unlawful Turkish occupation.

Neither Filori nor other commission representatives could say today how the EU will address this problem once Cyprus becomes a member state.

Commission representatives appeared similarly at a loss when questioned over the future legal status of northern Cyprus and its citizens. According to Filori, the application of the acquis communautaire -- the body of EU laws -- would be "suspended" in the northern part of the island once Cyprus becomes part of the EU. But he could not say whether citizens of northern Cyprus would be considered EU subjects deprived of their rights or simply foreign nationals.