Are you sure?

Chirac and Merkel unite over Turkey

Germany and France will on Tuesday demand tougher conditions for Turkey’s troubled European Union membership bid, in a move likely to cause new divisions over Ankara at next week’s EU summit.

Jacques Chirac, French president, will use a meeting with Angela Merkel, German chancellor, to back her proposal that would effectively set Turkey a new 18-month deadline to open its ports to Cyprus, an EU member, the Financial Times has learned. Such a deadline was not included in the European Commission’s proposal last week on the partial freezing of the EU’s membership talks with Ankara. But both Berlin and Paris believe such a deadline is necessary to maintain pressure on Turkey, officials said. Merkel said at last week’s Nato summit in Riga that the Commission position needed to be “strengthened”. A “review clause” on whether Ankara had opened its ports “would be desirable so that the council (EU summit) can review Turkey’s progress, perhaps in 18 months’ time”, she said. An official in Chirac’s office told the FT on Sunday: “France and Germany are on the same page with regard to Turkey.” Officials close to the French government said Chirac would endorse Merkel’s stance at the bilateral summit on Monday near Saarbrücken, in Germany.

A Franco-German axis could unify EU countries, including Portugal, Greece and Cyprus, that are sceptical of Turkey’s bid, but is also likely to alienate the Turkish government further. Britain and some Scandinavian countries oppose setting Ankara new deadlines. Finland, which holds the EU presidency, hopes an agreement on partial freezing of talks can be reached at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting on December 11. But a spokeswoman for Merkel’s office said last night that the chancellor “expects the review clause to be discussed” at the EU summit on December 14-15. Officials in Brussels criticised the Franco-German move. A Finnish senior diplomat said: “We don’t think there should be an additional clause. The Turks already feel strongly punished by the Commission proposal as it is.” The Commission is proposing that the bloc agree on the freezing of eight of the 35 separate policy areas under the membership talks. Ankara has refused to open its ports – a condition of EU membership – because of its long-running political dispute with Cyprus, but would have unlimited time to do so under the Commission draft. (FT.com)