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10 November, 1998
The European Union will open formal enlargement talks today with Cyprus and five other European nations, expected to be among the first wave of countries to join the Union early in the next century.
EU foreign ministers yesterday reaffirmed their commitment to an eastward expansion but many warned that the upcoming negotiations could be long and difficult.
They also avoided mention of a specific date at which candidates would become full members of the Union.
Greece was represented at the session by Alternate Foreign Minister George Papandreou.
During yesterday's session and within the framework of endorsing common positions which EU member-states will present in the negotiations with candidate countries today, France, Germany and the Netherlands signed and tabled a joint declaration on Cyprus, warning of "particular difficulties" linked to the opening of accession talks with the island republic. Italy also signed the declaration.
Greece tabled a counter-statement concerning the process for the accession of Cyprus to the EU.
A political solution to the division and partial occupation of Cyprus must be found as a matter of urgency as the only way which would resolve problems that will arise in the country's accession course, the statement by France, Germany and the Netherlands said.
Responding to the joint statement, Mr. Papandreou pointed out in a statement he tabled to the Council that any action or statements inconsistent with the EU Luxembourg decisions pose a threat to the entire process of accession.
In Luxembourg, the EU said Cyprus' accession should benefit all communities and contribute to internal peace and reconciliation.
Mr. Papandreou also called on the EU to act in a positive manner to achieve Turkish Cypriot participation in the accession process and encourage the Cyprus peace effort.
Mr. Papandreou reminded his EU partners that the government of Cyprus has put forward specific proposals to include Turkish Cypriots in the accession negotiations but "unfortunately these attempts have yielded no results so far."
Speaking during a press conference yesterday afternoon, the Council President and Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel and EU Commissioner Hans van den Broek downgraded the statement by the three countries, saying that what is mentioned in the declaration are already known and that the EU has already taken its decisions and in whose framework substantive negotiations for Cyprus' accession to the EU have already started.
The General Affairs Council also preoccupied itself with the issue of enlargement yesterday in the light of recent European Commission reports on central and eastern European countries, Cyprus and Turkey.
In his address regarding enlargement, Mr. Papandreou referred to a report on Turkey, saying that the fact there is no clear reference to Turkey's commitment to establish satisfactory and stable relations with Greece, to settle its differences with legal means, including the International Court at The Hague and, lastly, to support negotiations for a political settlement of the Cyprus issue is a serious omission by the report, which must be remedied. He further said that the Commission's report might complicate instead of clarifying the EU's relations with Turkey, noting that the Luxembourg summit decided that Turkey will be judged with the same criteria which the 11 candidate countries will be evaluated.
Mr. Papandreou said that this process is aimed at contributing to the support of Turkey's European orientation and that this can only be done when the EU does not send "garbled messages."
He also said that for this to take place the EU must be absolutely clear towards Turkey on the principles and values which Ankara must observe to become a candidate country. He added that these principles are respect for human rights, recognition of the
International Court's general jurisdiction, normalization of Greek-Turkish relations and a political solution to the issue of Cyprus.
Furthermore, Mr. Papandreou reiterated that what Athens' statement stresses, in his opinion, is that there will never be a Greek Parliament to approve accession of countries to the EU if Cyprus was not among them.
Mr. Papandreou added that Cyprus' accession is an issue of moral and political obligation.
Source: Athens News Agency