March 24, 2010 / 7:45 PM / 9 years ago

INTERVIEW - Turkish EU negotiator hopeful over Cyprus talks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Turkey’s chief EU negotiator urged Greek Cypriots on Wednesday to do more to seek a peace deal for their divided island and said he did not expect reunification talks to break down after an election next month.

EU affairs minister Egemen Bagis also said in an interview he was confident Turkey would one day join the bloc but made clear it was not about to open its ports to Greek Cypriot ships in a dispute that is holding up progress towards accession.

Bagis said he was hopeful talks would continue after the April 18 presidential election on the Turkish side of Cyprus despite suggestions they would stop if hardliner Dervis Eroglu ousted Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Talat Ali.

“Would Eroglu be as enthusiastic for a comprehensive solution as Talat? We all need to see. But at least I hope so,” Bagis told Reuters during a visit to Brussels.

Opinion polls put Eroglu ahead of the more moderate Talat, who has been holding talks with the Greek Cypriots since September 2008 but has secured no breakthroughs on issues linked to power-sharing on the Mediterranean island.

Eroglu wants a two-state solution that Greek Cypriots oppose and diplomats have said talks could collapse if he wins.

The dispute over Cyprus, which has been divided since Turkey invaded the island in 1974 after a brief coup inspired by Greece, has hampered Turkey’s bid to join the EU.

The EU says Turkey must carry out promises under a 2005 agreement known as the Ankara protocol to open its ports and airports to traffic from the Greek Cypriot part of the island.

Asked whether he expected any movement on the dispute, Bagis said Turkey wanted the EU first to end its international isolation of the northern part of Cyprus, a self-declared state recognised only by Ankara.

“Yes, we can (open up the traffic routes) — if the EU decides to implement its decision (to end isolation),” he said.

“INSULTING” ALTERNATIVES

Bagis said Turkey would conclude reforms needed to meet EU entry requirements by the end of 2013. But many national governments, including in France and Germany, are reluctant to invite Turkey to join the bloc because of public opposition.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is due to visit Turkey next week and Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan will go to France next month.

Bagis said relations with Berlin were strong and made clear Turkey would not welcome Germany reiterating calls for Ankara to be offered only a “privileged partnership” promising closer economic and other ties but not full membership.

“We have appreciated the fact that she has not used this horrible and insulting phrase of ‘privileged partnership’ for the last nine months and I think this is an important development,” he said.

Bagis dismissed the significance of cultural differences between the EU and Turkey, a secular state of about 70 million people, almost all of them Muslims, and said the EU would gain from Turkey’s accession.

“This is a chance for the EU to prove if it is really a club of elites, a Christian club, or a union of values,” he said.

“The EU cannot sustain itself without enlargement, we have to be realistic,” he said.

Writing by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Jon Hemming

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