Two weeks before accession talks with Turkey are set to start, Brussels reached a diplomatic breakthrough on Ankara's refusal to recognize EU member state Cyprus.
Recognition of Cyprus has been a thorny issue in EU-Turkey talks
European Union ambassadors on Monday managed to agree on a draft declaration which tells Turkey to officially recognize Cyprus as a state before it can join the bloc. The deal removes a key hurdle ahead of the start of accession talks with Turkey on Oct. 3.
"The way for accession talks should be cleared in time," said a spokesman for the British EU-presidency.
This so called "counter-declaration" was necessary because Turkey issued its own declaration in July stating that it had no immediate intention of establishing diplomatic relations with the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government.
Back then Turkey signed a customs accord concerning the EU's 10 newest member states, which included Cyprus. However, Ankara has failed to open its ports to Cypriot
vessels, despite the accord.
The EU warned Turkey in no uncertain terms, that failure to fulfill the obligations stemming from this customs union could stall accession talks indefinitely.
Britain trying to move the ball forward
Monday's counter declaration, due to be formally endorsed by ministers on Tuesday, was achieved only after the UK presidency of the EU squared its expectations of what Ankara would accept with Cyprus's demands for improved ties.
Among other things the declaration states that Ankara must recognize the Cypriot government, but allowed it to do so any time up to the time of actual accession -- a process which could take over a decade.
We think this is a balanced text," a EU spokesman told London's Financial Times. "We are very pleased after a long day to reach agreement on the declaration at an ambassadorial level. Now we hope for approval by ministers."
Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern, left, and Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou attend the first round table meeting during an EU foreign ministers meeting in Newport, Wales, Thursday Sept. 1, 2005.
The final deal fell short of some of Cyprus' initial demands, but the UK did in fact validate a proposal it had rejected last week which declares that prior recognition of the EU's 25 member states is a "necessary component of the accession process" for Turkey. Previously London had been afraid that such a formulation could be viewed as an attempt to link recognition of Cyprus with the negotiations themselves rather than with Turkey's final membership.
There was no immediate response from Turkey, which has occupied the northern part of Cyprus fore more than 30 years. A UN-sponsored plan for re-unification of the Mediterranean Island was rejected by the Greek Cypriots in April 2004, just days before Cyprus became full member of the bloc.
Accession talks set for early October
The last piece of Turkeys' accession talks puzzle stems from a so-called "framework for negotiations". This framework still hangs partially in the balance, due to Austria's statement that it would prefer the aim of negotiations change from full membership for Turkey to a form of "privileged partnership".
Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan address the media in Ankara in 2004. Turkey's prime minister has repeatedly rejected a proposition from German chancellor candidate Angela Merkel that Turkey should make do with a "privileged partnership" with the European Union rather than outright membership.
This idea has no support among the other 24 EU-nations, "therefore it should be possible to get an agreed framework before October 3rd, when accession talks are due to start in Luxembourg," said a spokesman of the British EU presidency.
The concept of privileged partnership is only supported by Angela Merkel, the head of Germany's conservative Christian Democrat party, who hopes to take over as chancellor.
However, opposition by a Merkel-led Bundestag (if it even happens) would very likely take several months to formalize.
Meanwhile, Turkey and the EU are set to start historic accession talks in early October, 40 years after Ankara had submitted its application.