December 9, 2009 2:00 am
The Greek Cypriot-led government of Cyprus yesterday placed new obstacles in the way of Turkey's efforts to join the European Union, declaring that it would not permit the start of accession talks in five policy areas unless Turkey changed its stance on the Cyprus dispute.
Although no other EU country supported them, the Greek Cypriots exercised their right under EU rules to announce that they would block talks over free movement of workers; the judiciary and fundamental rights; justice, freedom and security; education and culture; and foreign, security and defence policy.
Markos Kyprianou, foreign minister of Cyprus, described the measures as a "targeted response, not a complete freeze" to Turkey's membership talks.
However, Turkey warned last week that its accession process could suffer irreparable damage if EU leaders introduced fresh sanctions in retaliation for Ankara's refusal to open Turkish ports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic.
After a two-day meeting that ended yesterday, EU foreign ministers decided against such sanctions after a majority concluded that discussions on a settlement among Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders were at a delicate stage.
The foreign ministers said they would maintain a freeze on negotiations in eight of the 35 policy areas that Turkey, an official candidate for EU membership since 2004, must complete before it can join the bloc.
Cyprus's announcement went further, because the policy areas it listed are in addition to the eight where all EU countries agree talks should not proceed.
Turkey opened EU accession talks in 2005 in return for a promise to permit direct transport links with the Greek Cypriots. Turkey has refused to honour the accord, saying the EU has failed to fulfil its commitment to end the isolation of Turkish Cypriot-controlled northern Cyprus.
Suat Kiniklioglu, deputy chair of foreign relations of Turkey's ruling AK party, said that if Cypriot threats were true, it would indicate "that the Greek Cypriot government's position is continuing to poison Turkey's relations with the European Union".
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