Recep Tayyip Erdogan is starting out on the European stage. The Turkish Prime Minister was in Strasbourg on Wednesday to speak before the Parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe. But the following day, Brussels wouldn’t rule out the suspension of negotiations on Turkey’s membership to the EU if Ankara refused to budge on the subject of Cyprus.
Before this warning, Euronews was able to get an exclusive interview with Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He gave his point of view on the Cypriot issue and his ideas on how to solve a problem that jeopardises Turkey’s European future.
Turkey signed a customs agreement that extends to all new EU members including Cyprus. Why is Turkey then not opening its ports and airports to Cypriot trade?
-Recep Tayyip Erdogan:
So far Turkey has carried out the customs union and is the only non-member country to have a customs union with EU members. But it did not use the customs union agreement against the membership process. For instance, southern Cyprus rejected the Annan plan but after the 1st of May 2004, when Cyprus became a member of the EU, Turkey could have used it’s veto within the scope of the customs union. But it did not, because ethically it would be wrong.
Now, as for the additional protocol, what we are saying is that northern Cyprus should first of all be rid of isolation. then we will do what remains to be done. So far, we’ve done many things regarding the additional protocol, we’ve offered a lot but the other party was not as positive. And we won’t be able to remain positive under these circumstances.
We want a win-win situation. We want a win for northern Cyprus and southern Cyprus. Its impossible that one party wins and the other loses. I ask the world: what is the fault of northern Cyprus? Why is there such an isolation policy against northern Cyprus? Is it a country of drugs? Is it a country of mafia connections? Why is there isolation against it? If there is nobody backing up northern Cyprus then Turkey will be there to back it up. So if isolation remains, we will not discuss the protocol at all.
You said you were ready to stop negotiations with the EU if Turkish Cypriots remain economically isolated. Have you had any response from European leaders since this declaration?
No, that’s something we receive from other sources. I mean, they said that negotiations will be suspended, its not us saying that we will suspend the negotiations. We tell them : if you want to suspend, then suspend. But its not us that wants to suspend the negotiations. Negotiations are one thing, Cyprus is another thing. Adding Cyprus to our negotiation process is ethically wrong. There is no chapter mentioning Cyprus. If we are presented with this issue over and over again, if they put this as an obstacle in the way of our EU accession, we will not change our mind just because of that. We are determined to continue.
If the relationship with Greek Cypriots seems a bit tense, relations with Greece seem to have improved alot. Do you think this can help to solve things with the Cypriot president Tassos Papadopoulos?
Its not tense. There’s nothing tense on our behalf. Its the other party that’s creating the tension. Mr Papadopoulos and I meet at international meetings every now and then and he asks when we’re going to have coffee. And I tell him its no problem having coffee, we can have a coffee right now but if we’re going to have a discussion then your counterpart and interlocutor is Mehmet Ali Talat, the President of northern Cyprus. We are the garantors as Turkey, just as my friend Kostas Karamanlis, the Greek Prime Minister is the representative of a garantor country. So we should all sit down together, the four of us and discuss this together, solve the issue together because we don’t see anyone as enemies. We don’t want to make enemies, we want to make friends.
So you’re making a proposal for a kind of round table. Is Turkey ready to host this round table?
Yes we can host it. My friend Karamanlis can also host it if he wants to. The EU term president can also host it. But what is important is that this problem should be solved. However its the UN platform upon which it should be solved, because the solution does not lie within the European Union, the solution lies with the UN. But to have such a meeting, of course that can be done. By Kostas Karamanlis, or in our country, it doesn’t matter where, it makes no difference. What is important is that we get together and speak. We will speak once, twice, three times, we will talk and talk, but we have to have a concrete outcome so when I come to the table, I should come to really solve the problem, with the intention of solving the problem, and the others should also be prepared for a concrete solution, in order for a solution to be found. If we prepare ourselves in this way, the problem will be easier to solve. But if we decide not to solve it, then it will remain a problem.
But until that point, will you keep your ports and airports closed to Cypriot trade?
Yes. Definately for southern Cyprus., not for northern Cyprus. Our ports and airports are open for northern Cyprus.