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Turkey and the EU - Turkey's EU Ambitions are Stalled    17 December 2006

After several months of diplomatic exchanges, the status of Turkey's EU accession aspirations has been clarified prior to a meeting of the heads of the European Union 's 25 member nations yesterday in Brussels. Emotive expressions such as 'train crash' have now given way to more polite diplomatic expressions such as freezing several chapters.

As before, the British Prime Minister Tony Blair is actively promoting Turkey's case. French conservative, presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy is against it, and, inevitably, Germany is going to have to deal with it when it takes up the E.U. 's six-month, rotating presidency starting on January 1 2007.

The big problem for whichever E.U. country finds itself in the presidency role when the Turkish-membership issue finally hits crunch time, and a decision must be made about it, will be confronting head-on the prospect of bringing into the European fold a large, mostly Muslim country. Opponents of E.U. membership for Turkey fear an influx into continental Europe of Muslim Turks , with different cultural values. European Union law will grant them the right to live, work, study and own property in any E.U. member country.

This week, E.U. leaders were able to put off dealing with Turkey's proposed membership because, just before yesterday's meeting, the various member states had agreed on a set of "'carefully calibrated' documents" that effectively froze "talks in eight hand-picked fields in retaliation for Turkey's refusal to receive air and sea traffic originating from the Greek part of Cyprus...." As Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja put it, "'creativity' had been needed to arrive at [that] outcome." Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Ángel Moratinos "quipped...that the bloc had opted for a 'slowdown' in talks with Turkey to avoid a 'train crash'" of disagreements and controversy about what to do about its membership bid.

The problem of Turkey and Cyprus had provided a serious stumbling block. Ankara had been pressed to open its ports to the existing EU member states, including the Republic of Cyprus. Turkey had always linked this issue to the implement of measures to ease the isolation of North Cyprus whose citizens voted overwhelmingly in favour of the Annan Plan of 2004, which attempted to unite the island, prior to EU accession. The Republic of Cyprus and Greece fiercely criticised the fact that Turley had not opened the ports of North Cyprus. France and other states who are generally opposed to Turkish membership of the EU, supported this position.

That bureaucratic maneuver to prevent discussion of Turkey's fate this week prompted several commentators to criticise the "hypocrisies" of the Euro club. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan denounced the move as an "injustice." By choosing to freeze several "chapters" (or discussions of certain subject areas related to membership) of the E.U.'s obligatory negotiations with Turkey, its leaders "risk provoking a worse crisis than the one they [supposedly] will have postponed" .

The machiavellian view is that "the hope" of those E.U. states that managed to delay discussion of Turkey's membership bid "is that the Turks will end up becoming discouraged by the conditions imposed [on them] and [therefore] prefer a 'privileged' partnership instead of full membership ." Separately, France's conservative president, Jacques Chirac, has helped "complicate the situation" - the new-membership process - by insisting that the draft version of an E.U.-wide constitution provide European voters a referendum mechanism by which to approve or disapprove of any new enlargement of the Euro club. (Such a constitution is itself in limbo; French and Dutch voters rejected it last year.)

One E.U. official told a German reporter that "'the level of ambition is weak' at the moment on enlargement, as member countries know that any concrete proposals could be put on the back burner until the E.U.'s 'institutional' house is put in order." As German Chancellor Angela Merkel sees it, that means getting serious about an E.U.-wide constitution, for "the impasse over the constitution must end before new members are considered beyond Bulgaria and Romania ," and already, would-be "candidates like Croatia and Macedonia and other hopefuls in the Balkans" are waiting in the wings.

Leslie Hardy is the UK Chairman of Wellington Estates Ltd, a North Cyprus property development company.

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