by editor | 21st October 2010 7:40 am
EU decision on trade deals further blow to Cyprus solution hopes
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an had talks with his Finnish counterpart Mari Kiviniemi Helsinki
A decision by a committee of the European Parliament ruling that the issue of direct trade with Turkish Cypriots is not under jurisdiction of the parliament has sparked bitter reaction from both Turkey and Turkish Cypriots since they have considered the decision as encouraging the Greek Cypriot side to further drag their feet in efforts for finding a solution to the decades old Cyprus dispute.
The European Parliament’s legal affairs committee decided on Monday night that members of the European Parliament (MEPs) do not have co-decision powers over a proposal by the European Commission to allow direct trade between the KKTC and EU member states. The decision — 18 in favor, five against and one abstention — is regarded to mean that the Commission’s direct trade regulation is now solely in the hands of EU members, including Greek Cyprus. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an recalled on Wednesday that the European Union has so far failed to keep promises given to Turkish Cypriots back in 2004 for easing their international isolation.
Erdo?an, speaking at a joint press conference following his talks with Finnish Prime minister Mari Kiviniemi during an official visit to Helsinki, also recalled that some member states have blocked several negotiation chapters with Turkey, claiming that Turkey has to live up to its obligations in the Ankara Protocol, which includes opening up Turkish air and sea ports to Greek Cypriot vessels and aircraft.
Turkey refuses to lift the ban, saying that the EU should lift the economic isolation on Turkish Cyprus because the country is displaying a political will to reunify the island. In July 2005, while signing the Ankara Protocol extending its customs union to the then-new member states of the EU, Turkey at the same time issued a declaration saying that its signature did not mean it had recognized the Greek Cypriot administration.
Allowing Turkish ports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic requires parliamentary approval and the EU’s approach is not constructive at all for gaining such approval from the Turkish parliament, Erdo?an said in Helsinki.
“It is obvious that this development will create a serious crisis of confidence between Turkish Cypriot people and the EU,” the KKTC presidency said in a written statement released on Tuesday evening, while calling the committee decision on the Direct Trade Regulation as “saddening.”
In 2004, the European Commission proposed direct trade with the KKTC, which is recognized only by Turkey, but efforts to bring the proposal to life have been blocked by Greek Cyprus, a full member of the EU. The Greek Cypriots, who rejected a UN plan to reunite the island, were admitted to the EU as representatives of all of Cyprus — days after voting against the reunification plan.
The debate at the European Parliament’s legal affairs committee focused on whether the EU should permit trade with 264,000 Turkish Cypriots, who live in political isolation and are not permitted to trade freely with the outside world. The European Parliament became part of the decision-making process in 2009 with the Lisbon Treaty, which gives it greater powers.
The debate focused on whether direct trade with Turkish Cypriots is a trade issue, which requires qualified majority voting among EU member states, or a political one, which gives states veto rights. Greek Cypriots have argued that it is political.
“The decision taken by the Legal Affairs Committee will lead to a weird situation in which the European Parliament returns an authority to the [European] Council — maybe for the first time in the institution’s history,” the KKTC presidency also said. “The point to which the European Parliament — which has been in a struggle with the [European] Council over its authority since its foundation — has been brought via pressure by the Greek Cypriot side is thought provoking,” the presidency noted.
“On the other hand, it is not possible to explain this situation only with the Greek Cypriot side’s manner or its attempts,” it said, underlining that the absence of the EU’s will led to rewarding the Greek Cypriot side’s stance preventing the Cyprus solution once more after they had been rewarded via EU entry in 2004 although they said “no” to reunification. Such absence of will encourages the Greek Cypriot side, which already has an irreconcilable attitude at the negotiation table, to be more rigid, it said.
Kurt Lechner, a centre-right German MEP who had written a report on the issue, suggested that using the parliament’s powers over international trade would undermine the sovereignty of Greek Cyprus, www.europeanvoice.com reported.
Nonetheless, Bernhard Rapkay, a centre-left German MEP who chairs the parliament’s group high-level contact for relations with the Turkish Cypriots, called the vote “ridiculous,” the same news portal reported. “I want law to be respected and [the Treaty of] Lisbon gives these issues co-decision and we are agreeing not to use this procedure,” Rapkay was quoted as saying by The European Voice.
Rapkay, meanwhile, appealed to the committee to give members more time to study the opinion by the parliament’s legal service on which Lechner’s report was based, underlining that the opinion had been given to members only on Friday.
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