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Media Watch 2006

03 December 2006
Source: Sunday Mail
Author: Paul Taylor
Comment: The following article appeared in the Sunday Mail of Nicosia on 3 December 2006.
Some EU states seek tougher steps against Turkey
"SOME EUROPEAN Union countries are seeking tougher sanctions on Turkey than the partial freeze in membership talks proposed by the European Commission over its failure to open ports to ships from Cyprus, diplomats say."

"SOME EUROPEAN Union countries are seeking tougher sanctions on Turkey than the partial freeze in membership talks proposed by the European Commission over its failure to open ports to ships from Cyprus, diplomats say.

Greece and Portugal expressed regret at a meeting of EU ambassadors that Brussels had not proposed a date to review Turkey's progress, which Turkish officials fear would be a new deadline to move on the Cyprus issue or face stiffer penalties.

More ominously for Ankara, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has called for a review clause and France has hinted it too may back the idea, which could unite the countries most sceptical about Turkey's membership bid.

"A stronger verification clause would be desirable so that the council (European summit) can review Turkey's progress, perhaps in 18 months' time," Merkel told a news conference in Riga on Wednesday.

Cyprus has complained the Commission proposal to suspend eight of the 35 negotiating "chapters" and refuse to conclude talks in any policy area until the ports issue is resolved puts no real pressure on Ankara, and has threatened to continue blocking all new negotiations.

A Franco-German axis demanding a date to reconsider Turkey's candidacy could gain political momentum, with other sceptical countries such as Austria and the Netherlands yet to speak out.

But diplomats say such a coalition is uncertain because the Social Democratic Party in Germany's grand coalition does not back Merkel's position, and French President Jacques Chirac has yet to show his hand.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a Social Democrat, has made known his opposition to a review clause.

Diplomats who attended the ambassadors' meeting said French envoy Pierre Sellal raised a question rather than making a firm proposal. "We said in September 2005 that we would have a review at the end of 2006. Why did the Commission not propose such a review again?" he said. The Commission and the Finnish EU presidency oppose another review clause, arguing that Turkey is being sufficiently punished and harsher EU moves could tip Ankara into walking away, with huge strategic consequences for European stability.

Turkey accuses the EU of failing to keep its word to end the economic isolation of Turkish Cypriots.

Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, who tried unsuccessfully to broker a deal on the Cyprus ports issue, said the Commission proposal would be the basis for discussion when EU foreign ministers meet on December 11.

But he acknowledged in a talk with Turkish journalists that ministers were likely to change the Commission recommendation, although he could not say in which direction.

Turkey's main backers, Britain and the Nordic countries, say the Commission is applying the brakes too sharply and risks removing incentives for reform in Turkey by depriving it of the small successes of provisionally closing sectoral "chapters".

Diplomats and Commission officials are also concerned there may be no agreement on December 11, meaning the Turkey issue would dominate a December 14-15 summit of EU leaders.

"Another summit on Turkey would be a nightmare," a Commission official said.

"But the Cypriots may have an interest in forcing it to the summit to maximise their leverage, because in several countries the leaders are more sceptical of Turkey, reflecting public opinion, than their foreign ministers." (R)"