• Cypriot president creates obstacle before EU-Turkey summit
  • EU's Tusk conducts shuttle diplomacy in Nicosia, Ankara

Cyprus complicated the European Union’s attempt to reach an agreement with Turkey that would stem the flow of refugees by insisting that Ankara recognize the Cypriot republic before a Turkish bid for EU membership can advance.

Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades on Tuesday revived a long-standing grievance three days before a European summit with Turkey aimed at winning Turkish help in slowing the continent’s biggest refugee wave since World War II.

At a March 7 meeting that laid the groundwork for the upcoming gathering, Turkey’s conditions for helping curb the influx of Syrian, Iraqi and other migrants included the opening of five so-called chapters in the country’s stalled process toward EU accession.

“Cyprus does not intend to consent to the opening of any chapters if Turkey does not fulfill its obligations,” Anastasiades told reporters in the Cypriot capital Nicosia. “It must be understood by our EU partners that possible acceptance of the Turkish demands, without implementation of Turkey’s long-pending obligations, would in essence constitute, with my own consent, acceptance that the Republic of Cyprus is indeed defunct.”

The Cyprus-Turkey dispute, rooted in the 42-year Turkish occupation of the northern part of the Mediterranean island, threatens to spoil weeks of courting of Ankara by European leaders such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU President Donald Tusk.

Proposal Rebalancing

They see Turkey, the transit route for refugees entering the EU mainly by sea through Greece, as the best hope of halting an influx that’s fueling nationalist forces across the 28-nation bloc and threatening to shatter Europe’s passport-free travel zone.

After Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, Turkey excluded the island from a Turkish customs-union agreement with the bloc because of Ankara’s refusal to recognize the Greek-speaking republic. That has, among other things, denied Cypriot ships access to Turkish ports.

Since Turkey began its own entry talks in 2005, the EU has pressed Ankara to treat Cyprus as a regular member of the bloc and to remove restrictions on Cypriot transport. Turkey’s refusal to budge has helped slow its negotiations on joining the EU.

The EU’s March 7 draft deal with Turkey on refugees was forged by Merkel and the Dutch government, which currently holds the EU’s six-month rotating presidency. Tusk, who met Anastasiades in Nicosia on Tuesday before heading to Ankara for deliberations with Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, signaled sensitivity to the Cypriot reservations about the opening of new chapters in Turkey’s membership bid.

“The Turkish proposal worked out together with Germany and the Netherlands still needs to be rebalanced so as to be accepted by all 28 member states and the EU institutions,” Tusk said at the press conference with Anastasiades. “The objective is to conclude the negotiations Thursday and Friday this week, but we are not there yet.”

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