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30 March, 1998
For the past eight years the Cyprus Republic's bid to join the European Union has been in the forefront of the island's political life.
At times hopes that an unhindered accession process would go ahead were high, but there were days when they were dampened, mainly because of the island's political problem and Turkish Cypriot reactions.
Today, Cyprus' accession process is becoming a reality and negotiations will be formally launched today in Brussels.
Foreign Minister Ioannis Kasoulides is in Brussels for this occasion, which is important not only for Cyprus but also for five central and eastern European countries, whose applications for membership have been accepted.
The EU will start intergovernmental conferences with Hungary, Poland, Estonia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia tomorrow.
The foreign ministers of five other applicant countries, namely Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria, will also be present at the launching of the accession process.
The EU has decided that the opening of talks with these five central and eastern European countries will be open to annual review and only when they bring their economy in line will a decision for accession talks be taken.
The accession process will be launched today with an address by the EU Presidency, followed by the Commission, in the presence of the ministers of all eleven applicant countries.
In statements Saturday at Larnaca airport before leaving for Brussels, Mr. Kasoulides described the opening of the accession negotiations as an "historic moment" for Cyprus, as it will most likely lead to the island's accession to the EU.
He added that the growing trend towards groupings of nations, the island's need to be part of the European family, and its political problem "should make Cyprus happy today, as a new impetus is being developed after 24 years", since the Turkish invasion .
Mr. Kasoulides said that the Cyprus government was aware of Turkish intentions and threats to integrate the occupied northern part of the island to Turkey, and it has already prepared a set of reactions.
Mr. Kasoulides pointed out the government does not wait to see the Turkish side's moves in order to form its reaction plan.
The government examines in advance various scenarios and it decides on possible measures, "taking into account the seriousness of Turkish moves, and both the prospects and timing of our reactions", he noted.
The Turks have reacted strongly to the EU plans to start membership talks with Cyprus. Turkish leaders have threatened to integrate the occupied part of Cyprus to Turkey, in retaliation to EU plans.
Invited to comment on a planned visit of his Turkish counterpart Ismail Cem to the occupied areas today, Mr. Kasoulides described it as illegal.
At the same time, he expressed the hope that "at least this time, Mr. Cem would realize that it is to the interest of Turkey to persuade (Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf) Denktash to change his intransigent policy."
It was reported in Turkey that Mr. Cem will visit the occupied areas today to prepare the ground for a meeting in Turkey the following day of the so-called association council set up between Turkey and the Denktash breakaway regime. The Council is expected to take a series of measures, in retaliation to the start of the EU-Cyprus accession negotiations the same day in Brussels.
Source: Athens News Agency