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Row Intensifies Over Turkey's EU Bid

Bernd Riegert (sp)August 30, 2005

Days before EU foreign ministers meet to discuss the negotiating framework for EU entry talks with Turkey, positions have hardened on Ankara's EU bid. France is urging Turkey to clarify its position on Cyprus.

Turkey's EU aspirations won't be that easily fulfilledImage: AP

The EU Commission is in no doubt that after years of preparation, Turkey is ready to begin accession talks on October 3.

Turkey has fulfilled all the conditions that were decided upon during a summit last December of EU leaders, according to EU Commission spokeswoman Francoise Lebail.

Zypern Ende der EU
UN soldiers, seen behind barbed wire and a EU flag, cross the Ledra Palace checkpoint in Nicosia, Cyprus, Friday, Dec. 17, 2004Image: AP

Turkey cleared the last obstacle to starting entry talks by signing what is known as the Ankara protocol last month, extending its customs union to new EU members including Cyprus. Lebail added that it was not necessary for Ankara to formally recognize Cyprus, whose northern part is occupied by the Turkish army. At the same time it would be good if Turkey did move to ease tensions with Cyprus, Lebail said.

"It's clear that that every effort that Turkey makes before October 3 would be very helpful. But Turkey is not legally bound to do more than it already has," Lebail said.

Frances raises pressure on Turkey

But not everyone agrees.

Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schroeder, zweiter von links, begruesst den tuerkischen Ministerpraesidenten Recep Tayyip Erdogan, rechts am Dienstag, 26. Oktober 2004 im Bundeskanleramt in Berlin.
Turkish President Erdogan, left with German Chancellor Schröder and ChiracImage: AP

French President Jacques Chirac said on Monday that Turkey's refusal to recognize EU member state Cyprus did throw up problems. On Tuesday French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy issued a new call on Tuesday for Turkey to recognize Cyprus.

"It is hardly conceivable that a country which is asking to enter a community refuses to recognize one of its members," he told a conference of French ambassadors in Paris. He said Ankara must clarify its position on Cyprus, but added that France would "respect its commitments but expects Turkey and other candidate countries to respect theirs and satisfy the conditions for joining the Union."

Bildergalerie Angela Merkel Türkei Bild8
Angela Merkel in TurkeyImage: AP

Voices of opposition can also be heard coming from Germany. Angela Merkel, leader of the opposition Christian Democrats (CDU), has demanded in a letter addressed to all conservative EU leaders and the EU Commission to change the goal of the accession talks with Turkey from full-fledged EU membership to a so-called "privileged partnership."

Doubts remain

Elmar Brok, chairman of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the European parliament and CDU member, supports the move.

"It's clear that the Cyprus question can't just stay the way it is," he said.

"We have to also ensure that the whole issue of the capacity of the EU to absorb more members is also cleared up and that can't be done in the foreseeable future," Brok added. "For reasons of fairness, also towards Turkey, we must find other ways -- whether it's privileged partnership or something else -- to bind Turkey closer to Europe."

EU foreign ministers are meeting on Thursday and Friday to discuss the negotiating framework for EU accession talks with Turkey, which has to come to unanimous agreement.

According to diplomatic sources, frantic wrangling is underway behind the scenes on the wording of the agreement. Cyprus could veto the document and even Austria has signaled it has doubts.

Austrian EU Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, responsible for foreign policy, has said the EU has to be more careful in the future when it comes to promising membership.