EU foreign ministers will discuss enlargement on Monday, but Turkey can expect little encouragement in its bid due to Ankara's trade embargo against Cyprus and scathing criticism from the bloc's executive arm.
Turkey continues looking for a way into the EU
Also on the EU 25's foreign ministers agenda in Brussels are plans for a new association agreement with Russia as well as the situations in Afghanistan and Kosovo.
In a downbeat annual report on Turkey issued Wednesday, the European Commission highlighted human rights and corruption problems as well as the influence of the army in politics.
However, it is the key issue of the divided island of Cyprus which looks set to upset Turkey's EU adhesion talks, which began a year ago and are due to take at least a decade to complete -- with no guarantee of membership.
Turkey, while refusing to open its ports to vessels from Cyprus, which is an EU member, moved to allay some of the European Commission's human rights concerns last week, with parliament approving a law to improve the property rights of the country's tiny Christian and Jewish communities, a key EU demand.
Discord within bloc
A lack of agreement among the EU member states could yet come to Turkey's aid as stopping the accession process would require unanimity.
Britain's Europe Minister Geoff Hoon on Wednesday reiterated London's backing for Turkey's EU ambitions, as well as those of Balkan countries queuing up at the bloc's southeastern door, led by Croatia.
But countries like Austria, France and Germany would prefer a "privileged partnership" rather than full membership for Turkey.
Merkel says Turkey should only be offered a "privileged partnership"
Ankara has rejected any link between the Cyprus problem and its membership talks, saying that the responsibility to keep Turkey's bid on track "falls more on the EU."
Turkey refuses to open its air and sea ports to craft flying the flag of the internationally-recognized Cyprus Republic, whose Greek Cypriot government controls the south of the divided island. This is despite a customs deal with all members of the 25-nation bloc it is seeking to join.
The Turkish-Cypriot statelet in the north is only recognized by Ankara.
Suspension of talks ahead?
While stopping short of suspending membership talks immediately, the EU's executive arm last week told Ankara to make progress on the Cyprus problem before the EU summit on Dec. 15-16 or face unspecified consequences.
Analyst Amanda Akcakoca at the Brussels-based European Policy Center said: "Turkey's relations with the EU seem to be doomed to a negative spiral. The pace of reform in Turkey has slowed down. Everything now depends on what the (European) Commission recommends, but I expect they will recommend a partial suspension of talks."
This would probably take the form of freezing some of the 35 EU adhesion chapters, those concerned with customs and transport.
Cyprus remains a sticking point
All 35 must be satisfactorily dealt with ahead of full membership.
The foreign ministers will also consider the wider issue of enlargement as a whole.
With phrases like "enlargement fatigue" and "enlargement hangover" joining the EU lexicon, officials here have made it clear that Bulgaria and Romania, who will join on Jan. 1, 2007, will be the last entrants until the bloc sorts out its own institutional impasse. That impasse was caused by French and Dutch voters rejecting the EU's draft constitution at referendums last year.
Poles block on Russia
The ministers will also seek to convince Poland to agree, with its 24 EU partners, on a blueprint for a new accord with Russia to replace the current Partnership and Cooperation Agreement which ends next year.
Warsaw wants Moscow to ratify an international energy charter and lift embargoes on Polish meat and plant products before any EU-wide negotiating stance on a new Partnership and Cooperation
Agreement is reached.
With no movement on the Polish side, the blockage will have a serious effect on an EU-Russia summit scheduled for Nov. 24 in Helsinki.
European Commission spokeswoman on external affairs, Emma Udwin, acknowledged Friday "Polish reserves" over the issue, but added that "the discussions are not yet over."