Turkey and the EU's presidency struck an agreement Friday to end an impasse blocking the launch of EU membership talks with Ankara, a Turkish diplomat said.
Turkey's flag (right) has already joined the others
After EU officials spent Friday morning scrambling to come up with a compromise on the issue of Cyprus, which has bogged down talks to offer Turkey an invitation to begin membership talks in 2005, a compromise floated by key members of the union was accepted by Ankara, a Turkish diplomat said.
The unnamed diplomat said the EU dropped a demand for Turkey to initial a protocol that would have amounted to de facto recognition of Cyprus. It will instead make do with a verbal declaration of good will by Turkey.
EU leaders scramble for a compromise
After Turkish diplomats indicated they were "disappointed" by the stringent Cyprus conditions requested by the EU, key union members sought to work out a fresh proposal on Friday morning. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Dutch counterpart Jan Peter Balkenende, whose nation holds the EU presidency, met to take stock of the situation.
EU leaders and heads of state stand for a group photo at an EU summit in Brussels
Later, as the EU summit resumed in earnest, it emerged that Britain, France, Germany, Greece and the Netherlands were working on a proposal to save the day.
"The presidency has developed a proposal with the agreement of the three big countries," an EU diplomat said, referring to Britain, France and Germany. "The presidency is still working on the proposal."
Positive signal yields to frustration
EU leaders, smoothing over their own divisions, agreed among themselves over dinner late Thursday to offer Turkey a start to intensive negotiations on Oct. 3, 2005. But the situation degenerated as additional wrangling ensued over the issue of Cyprus.
On Friday, a Turkish diplomat said he saw only a "slim chance" of agreement. British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, whose government is one of Turkey's strongest supporters in the EU, told BBC radio that it was "not clear" Ankara could accept them.
German opposition remains sceptical
German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder has been very supportive of Turkey's bid
In the months leading up to the summit, many within the existing union expressed concern over the possible inclusion of Turkey in the EU. Backers of Turkey's EU hopes, including German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, argued that the country is a vital bridge between Europe and the Middle East.
But critics, including many members of Germany's opposition Christian Democrats (CDU), maintained their doubts over the 25-nation bloc's ability to absorb a huge, largely agrarian country with a population of more than 70 million. They called for Ankara to be offered a "privileged partnership" as an alternative to full EU membership, should negotiations fail.
On Friday, conservative German politicians reiterated those concerns. Gerd Müller, parliamentary spokesman for European and foreign affairs for the CDU's Bavarian sister party, CSU, said the decision to offer entry talks to Turkey was taken against the will of the German people.