Cyprus threatened Tuesday to veto part of a migration deal planned between the European Union and Turkey, arguing that Ankara has failed to fulfill past obligations related to its bid for EU membership.
The deal is at the heart of the EU's response to a migration crisis that saw more than 1 million migrants and asylum seekers reach its shores last year, stretching resources thin and creating tensions. More than 152,000 other migrants have arrived this year so far.
The agreement with Turkey, which was first outlined at a summit last week, had foreseen progress on the country's long-running bid for EU membership and concessions on visa-free travel to Europe, in exchange for help from Ankara in stemming migrant flows over the Aegean Sea.
Opening new negotiating chapters under Turkey's EU membership bid will help lead to discussions with Ankara on key issues such as human rights and democracy, European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans told journalists in Brussels.
"These are issues we really need to discuss with Turkey in depth," he said, amid concerns over a recent Turkish government crackdown on opposition media.
But Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades said Tuesday that his country would not allow any progress on Turkey's EU membership bid until Ankara implements already agreed-to obligations.
He specifically complained about Turkey referring to Cyprus as a "defunct" state and refusing to recognize it as a country.
The island nation has been split since 1974 between a Greek south and a Turkish north. Eight negotiating chapters under Turkey's EU accession bid have been blocked for years as part of an attempt to pressure Ankara into finding a solution for Cyprus.
"The Republic of Cyprus does not intend to consent to the opening of any chapters if Turkey does not fulfill its obligations as described in the negotiating framework and the Ankara protocol," Anastasiades said in Nicosia after meeting with EU President Donald Tusk.
"It must be understood by our EU partners that possible acceptance of the Turkish demands without implementation of Turkish long-pending obligations would in essence constitute, with my own consent, acceptance that the Republic of Cyprus is indeed defunct," he added.
Anastasiades did not specify which obligations he was referring to. The EU-Turkey negotiating framework for instance calls for "progress in the normalization of bilateral relations between Turkey and all EU member states, including the Republic of Cyprus."
The island's Greek and Turkish communities re-engaged in peace talks last year. Anastasiades warned against creating any "confrontation" with Ankara just as those negotiations have gained traction.
Tusk acknowledged that the proposed migration deal "needs to be rebalanced so as to be accepted by all 28 member states and the EU institutions," pointing also to concerns about its legality.
The plan has been slammed by human rights advocates because of a provision that foresees the EU sending migrants from Greece back to Turkey, including Syrian refugees.
Tusk said he would travel to Ankara on Tuesday evening for further talks and expressed hope that the new migration deal can still be finalized at an EU summit scheduled for the end of this week.
"Hope never dies in Europe. We are now in talks and hope that we will come to a good solution," German State Minister Michael Roth said at preparatory talks in Brussels.
He added that he saw "no legal problems" with the deal.
But Spain has called the agreement "unacceptable," warning that it could violate international and European law. Trade unions and social organizations are expected to hold protests against the deal on Wednesday across Spain, according to the EFE news agency.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told the lower house that cooperation with Turkey was "indispensable." But he added, echoing comments made by President Francois Hollande, that, "there cannot the slightest blackmail... the cooperation must respect European and international law."
Austria's Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner also voiced a number of concerns over the proposed agreement, including the risk that the concessions on visa-free travel could lead to higher numbers of Turks seeking refugee protection in Europe.
The EU would have to revoke the deal "in case there are mounting reasons why Turkish citizens apply for asylum," Mikl-Leitner wrote in a letter to EU Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopulos, in an indirect reference to Turkey's human rights record.
In the letter, a copy of which was obtained by dpa, she also warned that countries like Morocco and Libya might demand a similar deal.