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Turkey EU entry talks start after Cyprus deal
2006-06-12 14:04:36

The Financial Times

By Daniel Dombey in Luxembourg and Vincent Boland in Ankara

Jun 12 -- Turkey?s long-awaited membership negotiations with the European Union were set to begin on Monday after EU foreign ministers reached a last-minute deal on demands made by Cyprus.

The EU and Turkey agreed to begin membership talks last October but until Monday no detailed talks had begun. Still, diplomats warned that although an immediate crisis had been averted by Monday?s decision, negotiations were likely to break down in a few months unless Turkey itself made new concessions.

?We have made a start,? said Ursula Plassnik, Austria?s foreign minister, who chaired the discussions. ?It?s a first step along a path where each individual step will have to be supported by all the member states. Along the way we will obviously come across new problems.?

While proponents of Turkish membership say the negotiations as a whole could last a decade or more, they fear the talks could collapse well before that time because of Turkish-Cypriot disputes or problems with Ankara?s record in implementing political and human rights reforms.

The Cypriot government had previously been at odds with the other 24 EU member states over their desire to start and finish the first part of the negotiations, on science and research.

Nicosia had argued that this would send the wrong political signal at a time when Turkey had made no progress in meeting EU demands to open up its ports to Cypriot ships this year.

Cyprus also wanted the EU to make a clearer call for Turkey to establish diplomatic relations with the island, which it invaded in 1974.

Under Monday?s deal EU ministers agreed to warn Turkey anew that ?failure to implement its obligations in full will affect the overall progress in the negotiations?.

Diplomats said that the decision by Abdullah Gul, Turkey?s foreign minister, to travel to Luxembourg for the start of negotiations was a sign that Ankara accepted the EU?s compromise with Cyprus.

But other officials added that Monday?s result would strengthen Cyprus?s hand later in the year if it sought to suspend the full range of negotiations with Turkey.

The European Commission is scheduled to review Turkey?s progress in September and October, but privately concedes that there is little prospect that Ankara will open up its ports. Turkey maintains that the Greek Cypriot government is at fault for rejecting a UN-brokered plan in 2004 to reunite the divided island.

Mr Gul appeared resigned to a tough encounter in Luxembourg, where the EU was set to criticise Turkey?s progress on economic, social and political reform. He insisted that the government?s reforms had not slowed down and said a fresh package of measures would be presented to parliament this week. ?The process will be difficult and the important thing is to be patient and determined,? he said.

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