In an exclusive interview with EuroNews, Cyprus foreign affairs minister Yiorgos Lillikas warns Ankara that a failure to honour its pledges over Cyprus could have serious consequences on EU accession talks. Cyprus remains a divided island. However, only the southern Greek half is recognised by the international community which refuses to acknowledge the northern half which was invaded by Turkish troops in 1974.
Turkish soldiers still patrol this territory. Cyprus has been an EU member since 2004. Ankara faces pressure from Brussels to open its ports and airports to ships and planes from Cyprus or face a possible breakdown in EU membership talks. Turkey refuses.
EuroNews: “The Finnish presidency had invited each side to talks on the Cypriot problem. This invitation was cancelled at the last minute. Why?”
Yiorgos Lillikas: “As you know, Turkey refuses to recognise the Republic of Cyprus and even refuses to meet us. For the moment, I can’t say I am very optimistic. Any information I get from other parties who are in contact with Turkey is very negative.”
EuroNews: “In mid-December, European leaders will meet for talks on Turkey and Cyprus. What do you suggest as a solution to the problem?”
YL: “Turkey must fulfil its obligations.”
EN: “Do you mean opening up Turkish ports?”
YL: “There are several obligations set by the European Union. Turkey must open up its ports and airports as stipulated in the border agreement between Turkey and the European Union and in the Ankara protocol. Turkey must recognise the Republic of Cyprus as a member of the European Union.”
“The current situation presents a paradox: Turkey is a candidate for EU accession, wants to be part of the European family, but refuses to recognise or have any diplomatic relations with another member of that family. This is very paradoxical.”
EN: “The reason Turkey keeps saying “No” is because it claims the European Union didn’t fulfil its promise to put an end to the north’s isolation. So, don’t we need an effort in that direction, to end isolation in the north?
YL: “First of all, let me say that the isolation is a myth. The best proof of this is that in the past two years, income per head of population for Turkish Cypriots has increased four-fold.”
EN: “A few days ago, I spoke to President Mehmet Ali Talat, the leader of northern Cyprus, a government which is not recognised by the international community. I asked him: ‘Why don’t you send back the Turkish troops?’ He answered that he was afraid of the Greek soldiers. What’s your reaction to this?”
YL: “There were 120,000 Turkish Cypriots in 1974. According to population growth figures, there should be 200,000 Turkish Cypriots living in the occupied territory today. But there are only 75,000, that’s less than in 1974, under so-called Turkish protection. Unfortunately, they have left the island for places like London or other parts of the world.”
“So what is Turkey doing? It has brought in 180,000 settlers from Anatolia. It’s colonising Northern Cyprus and changing the island’s demography.
There are 40,000 Turkish soldiers deployed in the territory while our national guards only total 9,000. If there is a question of security, it applies to us! Because we are under threat by the Turkish army. We are a very small country, there are less than one million of us!”
“On the question of security, let’s gather around a table and talk about it, I am ready to invite European forces to replace Cyprus’ national guard and the Turkish army, to replace all foreign forces in Cyprus with a single European force which would protect both communities.”
EN: “Are you ready to accept Turkey, one day, as a member of the European Union?”
YL: “Of course. I have to say, we’ve already backed Turkey’s request twice: once in December 2004, and then again last October, we voted in favour of opening talks with Turkey. Because we believe that a more European Turkey would be an advantage for us – a country that embraces democracy and respects human rights, international and European law.”
“But our backing is not unconditional: Turkey must fulfill its obligations, which it refuses to do at the moment.”
EN: “One of these conditions is the opening up of Turkish ports. And Turkey has said it has no intention of doing so for now. As for you, you are preventing negotiations between Ankara and the EU from starting, so in effect, the process is completely stalled.”
“To get back to the question I asked you and which I don’t think you answered: what real solutions do you propose ahead of the EU leaders’ summit next month?”
YL: “You see, we cannot give in to Turkey’s demands. Turkey has to help itself. We are prepared to help Turkey if it helps itself. For the moment, it refuses to do so.”
“So we are in a deadlock because of that mentality, the political culture in Turkey which believes that EU accession is an “a la carte” menu from which it can pick and chose.”