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Europe

Turkey to Take Important Step in EU Bid

Turkey will sign a protocol Wednesday extending its current EU ties to the bloc's 10 most recent member states in a move which will see Ankara meet the final condition for opening membership talks on October 3.

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Turkey is taking baby steps towards its dream of EU membership

The statement issued by a senior EU diplomat on Monday revealed that an accord extending the customs union to Cyprus, whose government Turkey does not recognize, would be signed by ambassadors in Brussels on Wednesday.

The Turkish foreign ministry said it could not confirm the date of the signing and added that if it did go ahead it would not amount to recognition of the Greek Cypriot government.

"This is a legal necessity for Turkey. We have to make our position clear, in written form," the EU diplomat told Reuters, saying the declaration would be issued "at an appropriate time".

Cyprus became a member of the European Union last year despite the failure of the UN-brokered peace plan to reunite the divided Mediterranean island, which Turkish Cypriots backed but Greek Cypriots vetoed.

Turkey and Greece have been at loggerheads over Cyprus since the former invaded the island in 1974 in response to a coup in Nicosia engineered by Greece's then-ruling military junta. Turkey still has some 35,000 troops deployed in the north of the island.

Cyprus issue not a condition, EU says

In the EU statement, the diplomat added that the bloc had not made it a condition for opening negotiations that Ankara recognizes Cyprus before the talks start. He said the EU would have to consider the form and content of any political declaration Turkey might make on the subject.

Turkey's proposed accession is a disputed topic in some quarters of the EU despite the decision last month by the bloc's 25 leaders which reaffirmed their decision to begin talks with the country, with the goal of membership.


Poll shows widespread opposition

A European Commission survey published last week indicated 52 percent of EU citizens oppose Turkish accession and only 35 percent support it. The poll suggested 80 percent of Austrians, 74 percent of Germans and 70 percent of French were against admitting the mainly Muslim nation of 70 million citizens.

However, the Turkish bid for membership continues despite the opposition, domestic problems with terrorism and a faltering democracy and human rights program. In October last year, the European Commission concluded that Ankara had sufficiently met the EU's criteria on democracy, human and minority rights and the rule of law to begin membership talks, despite protests from a number of European politicians to the contrary.

Turkey slowly ticking off EU conditions

Turkey was set a number of conditions to comply with before negotiations could begin, including several packages of legal reforms, which were introduced by Ankara in April.

The EU has said accession will take at least a decade and negotiations are an open-ended process whose outcome cannot be guaranteed in advance.

The 25-nation bloc must agree a negotiating mandate unanimously for talks to start. The executive EU Commission put forward a proposal in June, but Cyprus and Austria have sought amendments while France has reserved its position.

Erdogan to meet Turkey bid supporter Blair

On the same day that the customs union protocol is signed, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan will meet British Prime Minister Tony Blair, current holder of the rotating six-month EU presidency, in London. Britain has championed Turkey's bid, highlighting the strategic value of embracing a large Muslim democracy and NATO ally.

Wednesday's Blair-Erdogan talks are expected to cover EU issues including Cyprus and the customs protocol, as well as the fight against terrorism.

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