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Media Watch 2006

01 December 2006
Source: Cyprus Weekly
Author: Alex Efthyvoulos
Comment: The following editorial article appeared in the Cyprus Weekly of Nicosia on 1 December 2006.
Stop entry talks with Turkey
Top EU parliamentarians reaction to EU Commission's soft treatment of Turkey over its Cyprus obligations "THE EU must suspend accession negotiations with Turkey if it continues to refuse to open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic, the Chairman of the EU Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Elmar Brok, and other leading MEPs said this week."

"Top EU parliamentarians reaction to EU Commission's soft treatment of Turkey over its Cyprus obligations

THE EU must suspend accession negotiations with Turkey if it continues to refuse to open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic, the Chairman of the EU Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, Elmar Brok, and other leading MEPs said this week.

They were reacting to the reluctance of the EU Commission to take tougher action against Turkey over its failure to implement the EU Ankara protocol on the opening of its ports and airports, and the Commission's decision to continue the accession negotiations, albeit at a slower pace.

"As long as both the (EU) Council and Commission are unable to finally suspend accession negotiations, Ankara will not give way in the Cyprus question," Brok said bluntly.

"The continued closure of ports and airfields to ships and planes from Cyprus cannot remain without consequences,'' was the reaction of Camiel Eurlings, the hard-hitting EU Parliament's Rapporteur on Turkey.

There were similar demands for the suspension of the EU-Turkey accession talks from the leaders of parliamentary groups.

The reactions were sparked by Wednesday's decision of the Commission to suspend only eight out of the 33 negotiation chapters with Turkey, because of its refusal to implement the protocol.

The next stage in the protracted saga on the future of the EU-Turkey negotiations will be during the forthcoming meeting of the EU Council, the periodic meeting of EU foreign ministers, due on December 11 which will have to consider the Commission's decision, which is only a non-binding recommendation to it.

Strategic importance

The EU's Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said Turkey could yet score a "golden goal'' by meeting its obligations before the ministers' meeting.

At the same time, he excused the Commission's refusal to stop the accession negotiations because of the strategic importance of EU-Turkey relations.

He said: "Europe needs a stable democratic and increasingly prosperous Turkey. This is why we started accession negotiations a year ago. In the light of the strategic importance of the EU-Turkey relations today we confirm that these negotiations continue, although with a slower pace.

"We will be able to return to a normal pace as soon as Turkey has fulfilled its obligations related to the Ankara Protocol... There will be no train crash. There is a slowing down because of work further down the track.''

Brok rejected Rehn's excuse outright. He said both the EU's Finnish presidency in office as well as the Commission "admitted that the search for a solution on the question of the Ankara protocol failed because of Turkish intransigence. However, if a suspension of the trade and customs related negotiation chapters is the only consequence that the Commission draws, then this is not enough.

Instead, no new negotiation chapters should be opened as long as Turkey does not meet its legal obligations.''

He said that the Commission's position would not only harm EU credibility and reliability for the European public, but also weaken with its passive behaviour the Union's negotiation position also very decisively regarding Turkey.

"On the contrary, the Turkish side understands only a clear language. Prime Minister Erdogan is a good tactician. He will interpret the yielding behaviour of the Commission and the Council at the current accession negotiations as weakness to be used to his country's benefit.''

Hard-won condition

Eurlings reacted in a similar way. He argued that the Commission decision "gives a weak signal. It is a weak signal for the reformers in Turkey, because not fulfilling the criteria has virtually no consequences." He then clarified that Turkey's obligation to implement the protocol was an obligation toward the EU, and not just to Cyprus.

"We must not forget that the Ankara-Protocol is an agreement between the EU member states and Turkey.

"Normalisation of trade relations with Cyprus was a hard-won European condition at the summit in December 2004, and at the start of the negotiations in September 2005,'' Eurlings said.

The leader of the Socialist Group, Martin Schulz, welcomed the Commission decision, saying that "it is now absolutely clear that Turkey has to make a move. We cannot compromise on Ankara's failure to open its ports and airports to Cyprus traffic. We urge the Turkish government to fulfil its commitment under the Ankara protocol.''

The Group's vice-president, Jan Marinus Wiersman, who is responsible for policy on Turkey, said: "The Commission's recommendation is a measured response to an extremely difficult situation. It is clear that the decision to delay talks on eight chapters has been carefully weighed up."

Andrew Duff, the British MEP who is Vice-President of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, was against the freezing of the accession negotiations.

He said the suspension of negotiations on the eight chapters "now means that there should be renewed determination to make progress on the remaining 25."

(No train crash)

He added that the EU Council of EU foreign ministers that will meet in two weeks time "must act in good faith and not seek to over-dramatise the problems in EU-Turkey relations. There is no 'train crash,' because the brakes have been applied. Both sides must learn to pace the membership process better in the future.

"Both Turkey and the EU need more time if they are to advance the process successfully.''

Duff said that "as far as Cyprus is concerned, it is clear that there can be little clear progress until after the Turkish and Cypriot elections in 2007-08. At that stage, it is hoped that there will be not only a Turkish government strong enough to implement the Ankara Protocol in full, but also a Greek Cypriot government prepared to enter into a genuine power-sharing agreement with the Turkish Cypriots.''

Dutch Green MEP Joost Lagendjik, the avowedly pro-Turkish chairman of the European Parliament's Turkey delegation welcomed the Commission's decision.

He said this "outlines a positive approach on how to progress with Turkey's accession talks in the absence of the resolution of the Cyprus question. The complete suspension of the accession, which some parties have called for, is in the interest of neither the EU nor Turkey and would undoubtedly derail the reform process in Turkey.''

He added that Turkey's continuing ban on Cypriot ships and planes "must clearly have consequences, however the EU response must clearly be proportional. Suspending those chapters of negotiations relating to customs union achieves this goal.''"