Dutch Prime Minister Pushes Turkey to Seek Cyprus Solution Before EU Accession

NICOSIA (AFP/EU Business)–Turkey has a responsibility in solving Cyprus’s 29-year division before the island becomes a full EU member next May–Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said in Nicosia on Tuesday.

"The whole EU is looking forward to a solution for Cyprus and it is very important that the parties concerned–on both sides of the island–try to find a solution before May 1," Balkenende told reporters.

He stressed that EU hopeful Turkey–along with the United Nations and the European Union–must be "willing" to find a Cyprus solution.

"This has to do with Turkey–and I hope the Turkish authorities will also take on their responsibility–as everybody has to," Balkenende said after meeting Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos.

Balkenende stressed that Turkey would also be judged on the Copenhagen criteria–calling on Ankara to respect human rights and the rights of minority groups.

Balkenende in Turkey

Balkenende took the opportunity to convey his message first-hand to Turkey on Wednesday–during a joint press conference with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Balkenende said EU membership required enacting democratic reforms rather than keeping them on paper.

"If you talk about entering the European Union–it’s more than entering an economic union. It has to do with values," Balkenende told reporters.

"It is on the one hand a matter of law-making and changing rules–but on the other it is also a matter of what is on the minds and hearts of people and organizations," he added.

Balkenende pledged support for Ankara’s efforts to fulfill EU-required criteria–which will be recorded in a progress report by the European Commission.

The report will be of critical importance when EU leaders meet in December 2004–with the Netherlands in the EU presidency chair–to decide whether to open accession talks with Ankara–he said.

Erdogan for his part–did not touch on the subject of Cyprus but said Turkey had carried out all the reforms required for beginning accession talks and was determined to implement them fully.

"We expect all EU countries–primarily Holland–to take our progress into account and support our reforms process" at the EU summit in December 2003 in Brussels–Erdogan said.

"It is a fundamental aim for Turkey to obtain a date for accession in December 2004," he added.

The island has been divided between its Turkish and Greek communities since 1974 when Turkey seized its northern part in response to a Greek Cypriot coup in Nicosia aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece.

Cyprus is set to join the EU in May 2004–but the bloc says it will admit only the internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot part in the south if the island is not reunified in time.

Such a prospect may fuel tensions between Brussels and Ankara–which keeps about 30,000 troops in the Turkish Cypriot north–and impede Turkey’s own EU bid.

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