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Turkey: EU Enlargement Commissioner Says Talks Must Not Be Delayed

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told the European Parliament’s Foreign Relations Committee today that Turkey has cleared all hurdles necessary to start accession talks on 3 October, as planned. However, he said EU member states, which must make the final decision on Turkey’s eventual EU membership, are still hotly debating the issue. A key point in this debate is when and if Turkey should recognize the Greek government of divided Cyprus, an EU member.

Brussels, 13 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Commissioner Rehn repeated his long-held view that the EU has no grounds to delay launching accession talks with Turkey.

He said EU member states gave Turkey two conditions at a summit last December, both of which Ankara has now fulfilled.

“There was a unanimous decision by the European Council that they expected Turkey to fulfill two conditions: the entry into force of the six pieces of legislation that were essential for the legal and political [accession] criteria, and the signature by Turkey of the adaptation protocol of the Ankara agreement [creating a customs union with the EU] knowing that this would not amount to an explicit, formal recognition [of Cyprus]. These two conditions are now met,” Rehn said.

However, Rehn conceded that EU member states are still locked in what he described as “heated” debates. These are expected to culminate in an unscheduled meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on 26 September.

Before negotiations can start with Turkey, the EU must adopt two key documents.

One is the so-called “negotiating mandate” allowing the European Commission to start talks. The other is a “counter-declaration” to a statement last July in which Turkey said its extension of the existing customs union with the EU -- the so-called Ankara Protocol -- to the 10 new EU members does not amount to a recognition of Greek Cyprus.

A previous draft of the counter-declaration urged Turkey to normalize its relations with Nicosia. Turkey is the only country to formally acknowledge the Turkish side of Cyprus as an independent state.

The wording of these two EU documents will be crucial. Diplomats in Brussels say the EU’s British presidency has struck a deal with France effectively removing the threat of a formal EU stipulation that the talks could lead to a “privileged partnership” rather than full membership.

Rehn today sought to allay the latent anxiety many member states feel about the long-term consequences of Turkish membership. He noted that as all member states need to unanimously approve all of the 35 chapters into which accession talks have been divided, opportunities to put a brake on the process abound.

“The member states will have to approve unanimously all the documents [concerning] the negotiations on each and every chapter. That means that there will be 35 decisions to be taken concerning the opening of chapters and 35 decisions concerning the closing of chapters, and perhaps in 10 or 15 years’ [time] a decision concerning the possible closing of negotiations. This means that after the opening of the negotiations has been decided there will be all together 71 ‘veto-points’ for each member state,” Rehn said.

Rehn said some EU policy areas would remain closed for Turkey, while permanent safeguard measures would be put in place to block immigration from the country. Also, he said, Turkey would be subject to rigorous monitoring by the European Commission. The commission is issuing annual “progress reports,” the next of which is due on 9 November.

However, Cyprus remains a stumbling block. Turkey’s overt repetition of the fact it does not recognize Cyprus continues to raise hackles in the EU. To add insult to injury, Turkey also refuses to implement the extended customs union with the EU when it comes to Cyprus. Its ports and airports remain closed to Cypriot boats and planes.

The Cypriot government today warned it is ready to veto the start of accession talks with Turkey.

Rehn sought to steer a cautious course. He said the issues with Cyprus do not have to be resolved before 3 October. He said Turkey would be forced to accept Cypriot transport or find itself unable to end talks on some chapters.

Rehn said it is “evident” Turkey must recognize Cyprus by the time it accedes to the EU.

But Rehn also sought to pressure Cyprus. He noted that it was the Greek part of Cyprus that voted down a UN compromise last year in a referendum. Had they not done so, Rehn noted, the problem of recognition would not exist today.

He obliquely criticized Cyprus for single-handedly blocking an EU aid package to the Turkish part of Cyprus worth hundreds of millions of euros.

“It is regrettable that those who have in fact suffered from the current situation are in the first place the Turkish Cypriot community, because regardless of our decisions more than a year ago, we have not been able to provide the package on financial assistance and direct trade, which would help in ending the economic isolation of the northern part of Cyprus and enhancing economic development and trade relations in that part of the island -- which is also necessary to facilitate a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus,” Rehn said.

Currently, the EU views northern Cyprus as EU territory where EU laws are suspended.

Responding to criticism voiced by some European Parliament deputies today, Rehn said the recent indictment in Turkey of the celebrated author Orhan Pamuk is “clearly in breach of the principles of the European Convention on Human Rights.”

Pamuk was indicted earlier this month after he spoke of the “genocide” of Turkey’s Armenian population during World War I. A prosecutor in Istanbul said his remarks amounted to a "public denigration" of Turkish identity.

Rehn said the decision by an Istanbul district judge to set 16 December as the trial date is a “provocation” -- as it was on that day last year that the EU summit decided to authorize accession talks with Turkey.