Mon, Jul 02, 2007 - Page 6 News List

New EU president Socrates to keep Turkey on track

AP , LISBON

The EU's incoming president, Portugese Prime Minister Jose Socrates, said on Saturday he aimed to keep entry negotiations with Turkey on track despite French opposition.

"We must be first and foremost loyal at what we pledged to do," Socrates said on the eve of taking over the EU's presidency from Germany. "The most important thing is that we should be loyal in these negotiations. We should be balanced and moderate."

Socrates, speaking to reporters at his official residence, said all EU leaders should "act in a responsible fashion and respect the credibility of Europe" in respecting the deal the bloc made with Ankara when it opened entry talks with Turkey two years ago.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has vowed to halt Turkey's membership bid and has called on the EU to launch a debate to set the bloc's final borders.

Portuguese officials are keen to keep a discussion of the contentious entry bid on the EU's back burner, but Sarkozy has demanded a special "working group" be set up to outline eventual final borders beyond which the bloc will not expand.

Socrates said if that if the EU met Sarkozy's demands it could damage the 27-nation bloc's image across the world, notably in the Islamic world.

He added that Portugal will use its six-month presidency to consider expanding the negotiations further.

France last week used its veto to limit entry talks with Turkey in two minor policy areas.

The two sides agreed to open talks on statistics and financial control, but France prevented the expansion of the negotiations to the more important economic and monetary policy.

Current talks cover only two areas -- science and research and industrial affairs, although EU entry talks normally cover 35 negotiating areas.

Socrates said it was more important for the EU to concentrate on completing a new reform treaty rather than starting a highly divisive debate over Turkey.

Portugal has been tasked with completing and getting all 27 EU leaders to sign a new treaty, finalizing a deal reached by EU leaders last weekend.

The new treaty is meant to streamline how the EU makes decisions.

The EU's entry talks with Turkey have made scant progress. Cyprus, Greece and France have slowed them over misgivings of Ankara's right to join and over its refusal to officially recognize EU member Cyprus.

The EU partially suspended the negotiations last December in protest of Turkey's refusal to open its ports and airports to trade with Cyprus.

Turkey says it will not do so until the EU takes steps to end the international isolation of the Turkish Cypriot northern half of Cyprus.

The southern Greek Cypriot side of the island joined the bloc in 2004. Cyprus has been divided since 1974

The EU, however, has so far failed to get Cyprus to lift its opposition to live up to a three-year-old promise to provide aid and open direct trade links with the Turkish Cypriots.

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