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EU faces mounting pressure to suspend entry talks with Turkey

Turkey faced growing opposition to its bid to join the European Union, with some EU governments mooting a possible suspension of entry talks to punish Turkey for refusing to trade with EU member Cyprus.

Foreign ministers from Greece and Austria, longstanding skeptics of Turkey's EU bid, floated the idea of a „time-out” in the 13-month-old entry talks in response to Turkey's ban on ships and airplanes from Cyprus. „If there's no important move from here until December, then it might be wise to agree to a time-out to reduce tensions,” Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said at a meeting of EU ministers in Brussels. Turkey's occupation of the northern tier of Cyprus has clouded the entry talks from the beginning, along with restrictions on the media and women's and minority rights that have come under increasing criticism in Europe. The European Commission, the EU's Brussels-based executive agency, scolded Turkey last week for the Cypriot trade ban. The warning ushered in a month of efforts to salvage the entry talks before a mid-December summit of EU leaders. „We cannot continue as if nothing has happened,” Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis told reporters yesterday in Brussels. „There will be an impact” if the deadlock lasts until the summit.

The mounting tensions led Richard Holbrooke, a former US ambassador to the United Nations, to warn of the increased risks of a breakdown. The US has backed Turkey's EU entry, saying it would build a bridge to the Muslim world. „The train wreck which everyone wants to avoid is in real danger of occurring,” Holbrooke said at a conference yesterday in Brussels. Turkey has controlled northern Cyprus since a 1974 invasion after a coup by Greek Cypriot advocates of union with Greece. Turkey has 30,000 soldiers on its part of the Mediterranean island. A compromise proposed by Finland „is probably the last chance for a very long time” to settle the Cyprus question, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told a press conference after yesterday's meeting. In February, EU governments approved €139 million ($178 million) in aid for northern Cyprus as a reward while refusing to let the region trade with the bloc.


„If nothing happens about the Cyprus question, nothing will be, let's say, definitely interrupted,” Luxembourg's foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, said yesterday. „But we cannot continue as if nothing happened.” Cyprus joined the EU in May 2004 without the northern region because voters in the Greek-speaking south rejected a United Nations-backed unification plan. The Turkish-speaking north endorsed the plan, leading Ankara to blame the Cypriot government for the island's continuing division. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said Turkey must open its ports to Cypriot ships and planes while saying no one who spoke at yesterday's meeting demanded a halt „at the present time” to the entry talks. (Bloomberg)