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Turkey edges further toward EU

21 December 2009 [10:23] - TODAY.AZ
The European Union is set to open formal talks with Turkey on a new chapter amid growing skepticism and dismay over the EU reforms and policies toward Greek Cyprus. Some experts say the accession talks need to be speed up

Turkey will take another small step toward European Union membership Monday despite its much-criticized policy on Greek Cyprus and some European reticence to accept a large, mainly Muslim nation.

The EU will open formal talks with Turkey on environmental issues, the 12th of 35 policy chapters that any candidate nation must successfully negotiate prior to membership. But some analysts say this is more wheel spinning than progress.

“The rhythm of the accession talks remains singularly slow,” said Didier Billion, a researcher at the Institute of Strategic and International Relations in Paris. Michael Emerson, an analyst at the Brussels-based Centre for European Policy Studies, is even less impressed.

“Some good spirit in the European Commission has decided to keep the process going along, but fundamentally it is blocked politically at the highest level and in the most fundamental way,” Emerson added.

Since Turkey officially opened membership talks in 2005, it has opened the 35 EU policy chapters at a rate of three per year. During that time, it has managed to successfully negotiate and close just one of those, the one dealing with science and research.

Eight chapters remain totally blocked due to Ankara’s stance over not opening its borders with Greek Cyprus, an EU member. The island of Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkey intervened in response to an Athens-engineered coup in Nicosia aimed at uniting the island with Greece.

On top of this, there are more fundamental issues at play, with France, Germany and Austria among the EU nations that would prefer to give Turkey some kind of “privileged partnership” status rather than full-blown membership, an option rejected by Ankara.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has led this lobby, which does not see Turkey as a European country. “We want Turkey to be a bridge between East and West,” Sarkozy declared in June.

Europeans are also very critical of the slow pace of internal reform in Turkey, which, unlike the Western Balkans nations, has no guarantee of eventual EU membership.

EU foreign ministers early this month stopped short of imposing further sanctions, though it was a very mixed scorecard with acknowledged progress in some areas, notably the normalization of relations with Armenia. “Progress is now expected without further delay,” the foreign ministers warned in a joint statement.

Greek Cypriot Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou displayed his country’s frustration by announcing that his government would attach new conditions to five more unopened policy chapters, making a total of six.

Days later, there was more controversy when Turkey’s Constitutional Court banned the country’s pro-Kurdish Democratic Society Party, or DTP. The bloc has expressed concerns over the court’s decision, and a senior EU official has said the ban might also sabotage the Ankara government’s recent initiative aimed at giving more rights to the country’s Kurds.

Meanwhile, Croatia, which is much farther along the accession track than Turkey, will take another step Monday by successfully closing two more of the negotiating chapters, tipping it toward the halfway mark, with 17 of the 35 successfully completed and just a handful left to open.

Croatia’s path toward the EU has not been all smooth sailing, either. Slovenia blocked its progress for almost a year over a border dispute. The talks have started moving recently after the two nations agreed to put their dispute to international arbitration.

But Ljubljana has not yet ratified the deal and is continuing to block three chapters – on environment, fisheries and foreign and defense policy.

The EU also wants to see fuller cooperation from Zagreb with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, or ICTY, and more progress in the battle against corruption. Nevertheless, the European Commission has said it would be possible to complete the accession negotiations next year and fulfill Croatia’s ambition of joining the EU in 2011.

/Hurriyet Daily News/

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