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Turkey: EU Talks Will Be A Tough Struggle

  • Ahto Lobjakas --> Cypriot Foreign Minister Goerge Iacovou speaks to reporters in Luxembourg today (epa) After hours of unscheduled consultations with Cyprus, EU foreign ministers today managed to begin talks with Turkey on the substance of its possible future membership. The talks will have to cover a total of 35 "chapters" of EU law, and Turkey's refusal to normalize relations with Cyprus -- an EU member state -- is likely to remain an issue at every step

BRUSSELS, June 12, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- If today's meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg is anything to go by, EU entry talks for Turkey will be a long and fragile process, and in constant danger of derailment.

Abdullah Gul, Turkey's foreign minister, was kept waiting in Ankara while Cyprus's approval to open and close talks on a seemingly innocuous negotiating "chapter" called "Science And Research" was negotiated by the EU's Austrian Pesidency.

EU sources said late today that Gul had agreed to travel to Luxembourg once news of the deal with Cyprus reached Ankara.

Cyprus Sends A Signal

Cyprus secured another EU reminder to Turkey that it needs to recognize the Greek government in Nicosia. However, it is clear the issue remains unresolved and retains its potential to damage Turkey's progress toward EU membership.

While EU officials and diplomats acknowledged privately that Cyprus was at the root of today's problems, EU member states and institutions closed ranks in public.

Olli Rehn, the EU's enlargement commissioner, said Turkey had been reminded of its "obligations."

"Clearly, today's meeting, today's decisions are to be taken as a very clear message to Turkey that it is necessary to comply with the obligations it undertook before we were able to open the accession negotiations [last autumn]," Rehn said.

Recognizing EU-member state Cyprus is central to those obligations.

Deja Vu?

Today's events were an uncomfortable echo of an EU foreign ministers' meeting on October 3, when Cyprus and other skeptics of Turkish membership delayed a decision long into the night. Meanwhile, Gul was kept guessing at Ankara's airport about whether a trip to Europe would serve any purpose.

Turkey's moves to implement EU law in the field of science and research are not the usual subjects of controversy. Today was a reminder that all entry talks need the approval of each of the EU's 25 member states at every turn.

Due to a long-running dispute, Turkey refuses to recognize the Greek government of Cyprus and has not opened its ports and airports to its vessels and aircraft -- as it promised to do last year before entry talks began.

Cyprus has long made clear that it is intent on using its leverage to secure concessions from Turkey -- even at the cost of antagonizing EU member states who want the talks to proceed smoothly. Nicosia forcefully drove home this point today.

A Victory For Cyprus

The EU-Turkish agreement on the "Science And Research" chapter will now explicitly state that failure by Turkey to implement "its obligations in full will affect the overall progress in the negotiations."

EU officials say the inclusion of the statement represents a victory for Cyprus. The fact that its recognition is not explicitly mentioned nor any deadlines given are concessions to Turkey, however.

Although Turkey acknowledges the need to "normalize" relations with all EU member states, it resents the link made to entry talks. It argues the future of Cyprus must be resolved separately from its accession to the EU.

Formally, the EU agrees, supporting the call for a UN-sponsored deal between the Greek and Turkish Cypriot communities. However, Cyprus does enjoy a veto on accession talks.

EU diplomats acknowledge that Turkey's patience was severely tested today. Ankara has accused the EU of negotiating in "bad faith" and has threatened to pull out of the talks if the Cyprus issue is forced.

Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn (epa file photo)

EU officials say that, at best, today's deal means the next showdown involving Cyprus and Turkey may have been put off until the autumn.

Rehn also indicated the true test for Turkey will come then.

"The [European] Commission will present its monitoring report on the progress made by Turkey as regards the overall reform process and as regards its compliance in relation to its obligations to the Republic of Cyprus in October or November this year," he said.

The run-up to the report is expected to encourage other skeptical EU member states to join the fray.

Ankara is expected to hear harsh criticism of its record on securing minority and religious rights, among other things. This will strengthen the hand of countries like France, which does not think Turkey should join the EU at all.

Current EU chair Austria, another notorious Turkish skeptic, is bound to neutrality by its role as EU president until the end of the month.

EU Expands Eastward

To view RFE/RL's archive of coverage related to EU expansion, click here .