The European Parliament Wednesday backed the start of entry talks with Turkey next week, but took a couple of diplomatic shots at the EU hopeful on human rights, religious freedom, and the Armenian massacre.
Though most parliamentarians are in favor, there are some reservations
Although Wednesday's vote to start the talks next week is largely a formality, it marks an important endorsement amid deep concerns in some countries about the vast Muslim country joining the bloc.
EU leaders gave Turkey a green light in December 2004 to start talks this October, but the country is still years, and several major hurdles, away from actual joining the 25-member union.
Chief among those at the moment is its refusal to recognize the government of Cyprus, which joined the EU along with 14 other new countries in a major expansion in 2003. The Mediterranean island has been divided since Turkish troops invaded in 1974, following a failed coup attempt engineered by the Greek dictatorship in Athens.
Most Cypriots on both sides of the island want reunification
The economically-depressed Turkish north is officially recognized only by Turkey. A United Nations effort in 2004 to start reunification talks failed and there has been little movement since.
Ankara not intimidated
Cyprus could trip up Turkey at any of the 35 stages of the accession process by using its veto power as a member of the EU. But the government in Ankara has been adamant in proving it is not intimidated.
Turkey has so far refused to allow Cypriot ships and planes into its ports and airports, though it agreed to a customs accord granting the ten new member states of the EU access. To urge Turkey on, the EU Parliament on Wednesday delayed a vote approving the customs union agreement, called the Ankara Protocol.
The delay was demanded by the European People's Party (EPP), the biggest party in the EU parliament, due to Ankara's refusal to let Cypriot ships and planes use its ports and airports, as required under the extended customs deal.
Vote delay won't block talks
The Finnish EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn
EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn (photo) lamented the postponement, saying it amounted to an "own goal," by the parliament, said his spokeswoman, Pia Ahrenkilde Hansen.
But she added the delay cannot block the start of talks next week.
"It is not condition for opening accession talks with Turkey on Oct. 3," Hansen said.
Also nonbinding, but a diplomatic slap in the face, is the parliament's resolution that Turkey recognize the killing of millions of Armenians in 1915 in the Ottoman Empire as genocide, something the country has repeatedly refused to do.