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Media Watch 2005

01 March 2005
Source: Cyprus Mail
Author: Gareth Jones and Zerin Elci
Comment: The following appeared in the Cyprus Mail of Nicosia on 1 March 2005.
EU tells Turkey to sign protocol

THE EUROPEAN Union urged Turkey yesterday to sign as soon as possible a protocol extending its customs union to the EU's 10 new member states including Cyprus – a condition for Ankara's accession talks with the bloc.

Turkey does not recognise the government, seen by the EU as the sole legal representative of the Mediterranean island. But Ankara cannot start its own EU entry talks in October without first signing the customs union protocol.

"I encouraged (Turkey) very directly to sign the protocol as soon as possible," Luxemburg's Deputy Foreign Minister Nicolas Schmit, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, told Reuters in an interview after talks in Ankara.

"The signing of the protocol... sends a strong signal to the outside world. It shows that here (in Turkey) commitments are rapidly respected...The signing could also have a positive impact on the discussions in Cyprus."

Talks to end three decades of effective partition along ethnic lines have been stalled since last April, when the much richer, more populous Greek Cypriots rejected a UN plan aimed at reuniting the island under a loose federal government.

The Turkish Cypriots endorsed the plan, but remain outside the EU. Only Ankara recognises their breakaway enclave.

Turkey denies suggestions it is dragging its feet on signing the protocol, a promise made at the December EU summit which set October 3, 2005, as the start date for Ankara's entry talks.
But diplomats say Turkey is holding exhaustive legal consultations before signing to avoid any impression that it has agreed to recognise the government before there is a comprehensive peace settlement on the island.

Asked if Turkey should cut back those troops as a goodwill gesture, Schmit said: "All symbolic gestures are welcome... We have to bring people out of the old thinking. We have to have some kind of new European thinking."

Schmit said this applied equally to the Greek Cypriots.

"We have to persuade the Cypriot government that vetoing or blocking is not the right solution. We have to try to find a valid solution, a valid compromise," he said.

Cyprus has hinted in the past it might veto the launch of Turkey's entry talks if it is unhappy with Ankara's stance.

Schmit urged Turkey not to lose momentum in political and economic reforms aimed at preparing it for EU negotiations.

Turkish media and EU diplomats have recently accused the government of delaying its preparations for the EU talks.

"We don't have the time to lean back and wait and reflect ... What is important now is that a clear signal is given that Turkey is on track," Schmit said.

Earlier, at a joint news conference with Schmit, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul denied suggestions Ankara's EU drive was flagging.

He said Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan would soon make a long-awaited announcement naming Turkey's chief negotiator with the bloc – a key role in what is sure to be tough bargaining in talks widely expected to last up to a decade."