Thu, Dec 07, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Turkey faces suspension in EU talks


France and Germany backed a plan to partially suspend Turkey's EU membership talks due to its refusal to open trade links with Cyprus, and called for a full review in 18 months of Ankara's troubled effort to join the bloc.

Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, whose country will chair EU meetings next week, also on Tuesday backed the plan to freeze eight of 35 negotiating chapters that Turkey must complete to join the EU.

"Something we expected didn't happen. It must have certain consequences," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, referring to Turkey's refusal to open its ports and airports to ships and planes from Cyprus.

At a meeting in Germany with French President Jacques Chirac and Polish Prime Minister Lech Kaczynski, Merkel called the European Commission's plan for a partial freeze a "good basis" for a decision next week. Chirac said he agreed.

The plan has provoked an angry reaction from Turkey.

"To distance Turkey from the negotiating table would be a grave mistake," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said. "Turkey has nothing to lose. If anyone will lose it will be the EU."

Vanhanen said EU foreign ministers should decide on Monday whether the partial freeze will go ahead.

EU nations are split over the plan and the issue is likely to spill over to the bloc's year-end summit Dec. 14 to 15.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair has called a partial suspension a "serious mistake."

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, meanwhile, has urged the EU to "work intensively" to keep the doors open to Turkey.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt has warned the commission's recommendation risked destabilizing the region.

At the meeting in Mettlach, Germany, Merkel called for the commission to report back to EU leaders between Turkish elections next fall and European elections in early 2009 for a review of Ankara's progress toward membership.

"We don't want to set any kind of ultimatums, but we want ... the commission to say to us what has been achieved and how we could proceed," Merkel said.

German officials have said that details of the review still have to be worked out.

The European Commission currently produces an annual report on the progress of Turkey and other candidates toward meeting EU membership standards.

Since the EU and Turkey began negotiating entry terms in October last year, relations have become strained and mutual public misgivings have increased.

Anger over EU demands has seen a sharp drop in support among Turks for the plan to integrate the Muslim nation of 70 million into the European bloc.

Among EU nations, too, opinion is divided between those who see Turkish membership as a way to anchor a moderate Muslim nation in the West and those concerned over the impact on immigration, EU finances and Turkey's commitment to democracy and human rights.

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