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16 March, 1998
Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos expressed satisfaction on Saturday over the results of the European Union's Informal Council of Foreign Ministers concerning Cyprus.
The "15" reached a compromise decision based on the British presidency's proposal on accession negotiations with Cyprus, with France withdrawing its initial objections.
According to the decision, accession negotiations between the EU and Cyprus will start on March 31 as scheduled, irrespective of Turkish Cypriot participation. Accession talks with central and eastern European countries will also begin on March 31.
"The participation of Cyprus in the EU does not depend on a solution to the Cyprus issue," Mr. Pangalos said shortly after the end of the Council.
Both the British presidency and the representatives of most countries stressed that Cyprus must not be punished because the Turkish Cypriot side refuses to participate in the accession negotiations.
Mr. Pangalos said that, after certain changes made by the British presidency in its proposal on Cyprus during the meeting, the Greek side accepted the proposal, withdrawing its own, while only France insisted on clear reference to the issue of the Turkish Cypriots' participation for accession negotiations with Cyprus to start.
According to diplomatic sources, the British side accepted the Greek proposal to withdraw a reference from its proposal which considered that the EU's target is the accession of a bizonal, bicommunal Cyprus. According to the sources, the word accession was removed from the relevant paragraph, which satisfied Greek diplomats who supported the British presidency's proposal together with all the member-states, with the exception of France.
Speaking to reporters, Mr. Pangalos said that in his address to the Council, he made it clear to his counterparts that decisions on the start to accession negotiations with Cyprus have been ratified at the highest political level, namely the Luxembourg summit, and that an overturning of these decisions is attempted then there will be an overall political crisis on the issue of EU enlargement.
Mr. Pangalos said that he also underlined that it is not possible for Cyprus to become a hostage of Turkey, reminding that President Clerides made a bold and generous proposal to the Turkish Cypriots who, however, do not appear prepared to accept.
However, he added that the door to the participation of the Turkish Cypriots in the delegation of Cyprus which will conduct accession negotiations remains open.
Early in the afternoon, and while it had been made clear that the French side was isolated in the Council, after a telephone conversation was held between French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine and French President Jacques Chirac, France accepted the presidency's proposal.
Consequently, the "15" reached an agreement which satisfies the Greek side since it disengages accession negotiations from a solution to the Cyprus issue. This was also made clear by statements made by most EU Foreign Ministers.
According to Saturday's decision, accession negotiations will start on March 31 and then there will be a monitoring process both for Cyprus and central and eastern European countries. In the framework of the process, the European Commission will submit reports on each country to the Council of Ministers which will also have the political responsibility of assessing the course of each country towards accession to the EU.
British Foreign Secretary and EU President Robin Cook told reporters that Cyprus President Glafcos Clerides' proposal to the Turkish Cypriot side to participate in the island republic's accession talks was "generous and realistic", adding that Cyprus should not be punished if the Turkish Cypriot side refuses to participate in accession talks.
Source: Athens News Agency