EU will ‘never accept’ two states on Cyprus: Von der Leyen

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European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said Thursday Brussels would “never accept” the two-state solution for Cyprus that Turkey advocates as a condition for United Nations-backed peace talks to resume, Agence France-Presse reported.

“I want to repeat that we will never, ever, accept a two-state solution, we are firm on that and very united, and this is what Cyprus can expect,” von der Leyen told reporters on a visit to the east Mediterranean island.

“The most precious part is unity in the EU, and the knowledge that all 26 member states at the European level are standing by your side,” she said, speaking alongside President Nicos Anastasiades.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey occupied the northern third in response to a coup orchestrated by an Athens-backed junta seeking to annex the island to Greece.

The Turkish-held north declared independence in 1983, but is recognized only by Ankara. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004.

In April, a UN summit in Geneva failed to broker a deal between Cypriot leaders to resume talks stalled since 2017.

Cyprus remains one of the major bones of contention between the EU and Ankara, after a push for two states from Turkish Cypriot leaders backed by Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan helped torpedo the April effort.

The UN is trying to mediate a deal for the island, nearly six decades since it deployed peacekeepers there.

‘We stand by your side’

Greek Cypriots say the stumbling block is the insistence by the Turkish side for Cyprus to become two separate states, while Nicosia backs reunification based on a federal model.

Von der Leyen said on Thursday that a recent summit of EU leaders sent a “very clear message” to Erdoğan.

“I want our neighbors (Turkey) to know that if they speak to one of our member states, like, for example, Cyprus, in whatever tone, they speak to the EU,” she said.

“We are united on that, we stand by your side, and I have been clear on that too in my phone call with President Erdoğan.”

She was speaking after she announced the approval of the Cyprus National Recovery and Resilience Plan, in which Nicosia secured 1.2 billion euros in EU funding to revive its pandemic-stricken economy.

Von der Leyen presented the bloc’s approval of Cyprus reforms under the EU’s 800-billion-euro Recovery and Resilience Plan to combat the impact of Covid-19 across the continent.

“It will spur growth, modernize and transform Cyprus,” she said after presenting Anastasiades with the approval.

EU recovery support

Nicosia proposes to use 41 per cent of the funds to support climate objectives, including through changing tax rules, liberalizing the electricity market and facilitating energy-efficient buildings.

Another 18 million euros will go towards fighting natural disasters, a move that von der Leyen commended after visiting areas devastated by Cyprus’ worst ever wildfire that killed four people over the weekend.

The aid, which Cyprus will not have to pay back, is part of the EU’s unprecedented economic stimulus package to be distributed among the 27 member states.

Cyprus is currently suffering its fourth wave of coronavirus driven by the aggressive Delta variant, hitting a record 952 infections in one day on Wednesday.

It has reported 80,588 Covid cases and 380 deaths. More than half of residents are fully vaccinated.

From Cyprus, von der Leyen travelled to Croatia, where she approved a 6.3 billion euros in EU funding.

“Croatia will be the largest recipient of the recovery and resilience facility, compared to the country’s GDP,” von der Leyen told a press conference with Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic.

“These are really generous funds … 12 percent of GDP that we will use for growth and development,” Plenkovic said.

More than half of the money will be poured into the economy that shrank by 8.4 percent last year.

Croatia’s GDP, largely depending on tourism on its Adriatic coast, will have a 5.4-percent growth in 2021, EC forecasts show.

The country of 4.2 million people recorded some 360,000 coronavirus infections and more than 8,000 deaths.

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