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Brussels to slow Turkey entry talks

Turkey will on Wednesday be told that its membership talks with the European Union should be slowed down sharply – but not stopped – as a punishment for its failure to open up its trade.

José Manuel Barroso, European Commission president, is expected to outline tougher-than-expected repercussions for Turkey’s failure to open its ports to ships from Cyprus this year, as the EU had demanded. The Commission’s proposal is expected to please countries such as France and Germany which wanted to send a strong signal to Ankara to fall into line. British and Nordic diplomats were on Tuesday night bracing themselves for disappointment. They had hoped Barroso would recommend the lowest possible level of punishment to keep Turkey’s membership bid on track. Diplomats in Brussels said they expected the Commission would recommend that Turkey would not be allowed to start detailed membership talks on a number of areas – or chapters – related to Turkey’s failure to open its ports.

Britain and other supporters of Turkey said this ban should apply to only three out of the 35 negotiating chapters: those relating to the customs union, transport and the free movement of goods. But diplomats in Brussels said on Tuesday night they expected the Commission to put between six and nine chapters out of bounds, in a move which is expected to infuriate Turkey. “There is a question about whether Turkey might decide to walk away,” warned one EU diplomat. Another said that Ankara was likely to react in an unpredictable way if the number exceeded six. Olli Rehn, the EU enlargement commissioner, has the task of judging where to strike the balance between rebuking Turkey for failing to honor its commitments to open its ports to Cyprus – an EU member – and ensuring that Ankara stays at the negotiating table. He also has to assuage many critics of the EU’s enlargement strategy, like France and Germany, which want to see the Union get tougher with candidates who do not stick to the rules. A final decision is due by member states on December 11. Turkey defends its decision not to lift its embargo on Cypriot ships and aircraft because of what it says is the EU’s failure to end the isolation of the ethnically Turkish northern Cyprus. (FT.com)