Turkish Government Talks Tough to Avoid Election Defeat | Europe | News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 10.11.2006

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Turkish Government Talks Tough to Avoid Election Defeat

The Turkish government wants to avoid election defeat at all cost, even if it means snubbing EU demands. Despite tough talk from both sides, negotiations over Turkey's EU accession are unlikely to be scrapped.

Turkish politicians worried EU could cost them the election

Turkish politicians worried EU could cost them the election

The EU and Turkey seem at an impasse. On Wednesday, the European Commission released a report demanding Turkey open its ports and airports to Cyprus by mid-December if they want to keep accession talks going. Turkey hit back, saying its ports will stay off-limits to Cyprus until the EU keeps its promise to recognize the breakaway Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus.

This hard-line stance shouldn't be viewed as Turkey rejecting the EU, Suat Kiniklioglu, director of the German Marshall Fund's Ankara office, told AFP. Rather, it’s a sign of the political reality in Ankara. With presidential elections next spring and the legislative elections the following fall, the ruling Justice and Development Party doesn't want to look like pushovers, Kiniklioglu said.

"In the current tense political atmosphere in Turkey, it is impossible for Ankara to make any concession on Cyprus in an election year, unless the EU makes one first," he said. "Otherwise, it would be political suicide."

Cyprus continues to rankle

EU Türkei Fortschrittsbericht Olli Rehn in Brüssel

EU's Olli Rehn had tough words for Turkey this week

Turkey's stance towards Cyprus is fundamental to its foreign policy. Voters would likely view anything appearing to be reconciliation as "selling off" the Turkish Cypriots, analysts believe. In Turkey, public support for the EU is also dwindling, making it a hard sell politically.

On one of Istanbul's main shopping streets, there appeared to be universal anger against Brussels as news of the critical EU report spread.

"Really, we don't need Europe. They are making politics about Cyprus, about genocide of Armenians, about Kurdish men," teacher Mustafa Bagci told DW-RADIO.

A recent survey conducted by International strategic Studies Institute (USAK) found that 81 percent of the Turkish public feels the EU's treatment of Turkey is "insincere and unjust."

A full 70 percent felt Turkey should suspend membership talks if the EU doesn't change its stance on Cyprus, AFP reported.

EU talks unlikely to end

Wahlen Nordzypern Flagge

Cyprus remains a tricky issue for Turkey's EU membership bid

"This is likely to be the last opportunity to make real serious progress for some years to come on the issue of Cyprus," EU enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn told DW-RADIO. "The Commission will make relevant recommendations ahead of the European Council in December, if Turkey has not fulfilled its obligations."

Yet despite the tough talk on both sides, most analysts see no risk of Turkey's EU membership talks being suspended, even if deadlock remains on the Cyprus issue.

Yet there could be a quiet period where, while talks aren't officially suspended, there is also no progress made, Kiniklioglu told AFP.

"There will be a lull in which the two sides will try to gain time," Kinklioglu predicted. "After the elections, the new government will take up the issue with new blood."

There's concern that Germany, which takes over the EU presidency after Finland, will put Turkish membership in a deep freeze, making talks even more difficult to revive and keep on track.

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