Turkey announced on Friday that it had signed a key document on the path to European Union membership, paving the way for it to start talks on joining the bloc in October.
Ankara still has a ways to go before the EU accepts it
The text, initialed by the British and Turkish ambassadors in Brussels, extends an existing Turkey-EU customs union to the 10 latest EU member states including Cyprus, whose Greek Cypriot government Ankara refuses to endorse. Turkey attached a declaration to the document, the so-called Ankara protocol, stating that its signature did not amount to recognizing the island nation.
"The signing, ratification and implementation of this protocol in no way means recognition of the Republic of Cyprus, which the protocol refers to," a statement from the foreign ministry in Ankara said.
The declaration read: "Turkey will continue to regard the Greek Cypriot authorities as exercising authority, control and jurisdiction only in the territory south of the buffer zone (in
Cyprus)... and as not representing the Turkish Cypriot people and will treat the acts performed by them accordingly."
Days of uncertainty
The signing in Brussels came after days of uncertainty over what kind of declaration Turkey might attach to the protocol -- and whether the EU would decide that it went against the spirit of the agreement.
Britain currently holds the EU's rotating presidency
Britain, which holds the EU's rotating presidency, welcomed the move, noted that Turkey had reaffirmed its long-standing stance on Cyprus, and did not rule out that EU members could decide to issue a counter-declaration. "The council of the European Union will examine the terms of the Turkish declaration in due course with a view to agreeing any further EU response," the presidency said in a separate statement.
Turkey is the only country to recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which was proclaimed after Turkish troops seized the island's northern third in 1974 in response to a coup aimed at uniting Cyprus with Greece.
A step towards recognition?
A European Commission spokesman said earlier on Friday that by signing the protocol, Turkey would recognize that the EU has 25 members, even if it does not legally recognize the Greek Cypriot government. "It is very important to underline that this protocol represents the recognition of the fact that the EU has 25 member states," said the spokesman, Amadeu Altafaj Tardio.
EU officials have warned that Ankara's persistent refusal to endorse a member of the bloc would create difficulties for its Turkey has received no guarantee it will become a member at the end of that process.
A Eurobarometer opinion poll released earlier this month indicated that 52 percent of Europeans are against offering EU membership to Ankara, with only 35 percent in favor. Opposition to Turkey's entry was also cited as a key factor in French and Dutch voters rejecting the EU's constitution in polls which plunged the bloc into an unprecedented crisis last month.