Concern in Athens as MEPs vote to freeze Turkey accession talks

24 November 2016
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There were concerns in Athens Thursday over the possible repercussions of growing tensions between the European Union and Turkey after EU lawmakers called for a temporary suspension of accession talks with Ankara. The biggest fear is that the rift could lead to the collapse of a deal between Brussels and Ankara to crack down on human smuggling in the Aegean, potentially prompting a new influx of migrants into the EU via Greece.

Although the motion is nonbinding, and would require the approval of the European Commission and national governments, it gave a sense of the level of concern in Brussels over what the motion described as Ankara’s “disproportionate” reaction to a failed Turkish coup in July.

So far only Austria and Luxembourg have officially asked for the freezing of accession talks.

Athens, which has been unsettled by a series of aggressive comments by Turkish officials in recent weeks, received an unexpected boost for its arguments Thursday when Manfred Weber, the leader of the European People’s Party, criticized Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for questioning the Treaty of Lausanne, which established the modern borders between Greece and Turkey, and appealed to Erdogan “not to use this language anymore.”

There was also concern Thursday over an inflammatory suggestion put forth last Sunday by a senior adviser to Erdogan for the annexation of the northern part of Cyprus. His remarks came just two days before the breakdown of United Nations-backed reunification talks between Greek and Turkish Cypriots in the Swiss resort of Mont Pelerin. Speaking to A Haber news channel, Yigit Bulut said the reunification of the island and “its surrender to the EU will mark the end to the notions of Turkism and Islam in the region.” He also said Turkish citizens would need a visa to visit the Turkish-occupied north in case of a deal. “[Under these circumstances] do we hand over Cyprus to the EU and then plead for Schengen validation? This is an assassination,” Bulut argued, before adding that if the north did not wish to go on under its current regime, “it will turn into a Turkish province and carry on in that way.”

Meanwhile, Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades and Turkish-Cypriot leader Mustafa Akinci are to meet separately with the UN special adviser on Cyprus, Espen Barth Eide, on Monday to discuss whether there is scope for the resumption of talks.

Anastasiades convened Cyprus’s Governing Council to brief party leaders on what happened at Mt Pelerin and also sought to dismiss speculation that there were crack in lines of communication with Athens. The Cypriot leader said relations with the Greek government and Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras are “excellent” and called for an end to speculation at these “crucial times.”

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