BRUSSELS (Reuter)–Greece said Tuesday that European Union enlargement would be threatened unless the EU dropped moves to bring the Turkish north of Cyprus into talks on admitting the island.
But Dutch European Affairs Minister Michiel Patijn said Cypriot accession to the 15-nation bloc would be politically and almost physically impossible without at least some progress between the island’s Greek and Turkish communities.
"We all realize that–unless progress is made between the communities–accession is politically and almost physically impossible," Patijn told a news conference after EU and Cypriot foreign ministers met for an annual association council.
The standoff between other EU states and Greece–angry at what it calls a departure from an agreement that Cyprus’s membership be limited to its southern Greek sector–pushed entry talks on the divided island off the agenda of the meeting.
Patijn said that–with elections looming in Cyprus in 1998–this year provided "a window of opportunity" to influence a solution.
Although EU foreign ministers went ahead with their annual meeting with Cyprus to review current relations–the most crucial issue of the future was taboo for want of a joint EU position.
"The path to EU enlargement to the east will become very difficult if the agreement concerning Cyprus’s accession changes," Greek government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said in Athens.
Tension over the island between Turkey and Greece has mounted in recent months.
Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos described the EU’s new position–spearheaded by Britain and Germany–as "hostile and deceitful" and said Greece would "not accept any lords" within the EU.
The EU’s External Relations Commissioner Hans van den Broek–who visits Cyprus from Wednesday to meet both communities–said Greece’s EU partners had not radically shifted position.
The new approach–he told the news conference–was to "optimize the atmosphere under which these negotiations can start."
"The Greek side felt that this could be seen as a change of position. It was not intended to be," he told Reuters earlier.
The EU has vowed to open talks on Cypriot membership at the latest six months after the close of its current inter-governmental review of its workings to prepare the bloc for the day it has up to 25 members.
In 1995–after failing to find a political solution for the island–the EU agreed that Cypriot membership could be limited to its southern Greek part.
The international community–with the exception of Turkey–recognizes the Greek Cypriot administration as the island’s only government.
To complicate matters further–Turkey–whose own request for EU membership has been shunned on human rights grounds–is threatening to bloc expansion of the NATO military alliance to eastern Europe if the EU continues to keep it at arm’s length.
Cyprus said Tuesday it was unhappy with this push by European states.
The reference to the involvement of "all Cypriots" in the entry negotiations of the divided island was attacked by Cypriot government spokesman Yiannakis Cassoulides.
Greece and the Greek Cypriots fear "all Cypriots" could include Turkish Cypriots whose breakaway state in the north is recognized only by Ankara.
"If one wanted to exploit this phraseology…it would complicate the issue of Cyprus’s entry in a manner which would not facilitate the course of Cyprus for accession–or the solution of the Cyprus problem," Cassoulides said.
Local newspapers and the semi-official media said the contentious wording was backed by Britain–Germany and France.
"The intentions of the three countries as they have been expressed are not satisfactory…they are not positive enough," said Cassoulides.
Diplomats in Europe have said the stance by Greece’s 14 EU partners was to pressure Athens to negotiate a settlement to the divided island.
"Greece correctly did not accept the proposed phraseology because such phraseology was open to multiple interpretations," said the government official–referring to the EU decision to start accession negotiations.