European Union Member States Present Fresh Doubts on Turkey

PARIS (BBC)–Preceding Turkey’s scheduled October 3 start of negotiations for accession into the European Union–French President Jacques Chirac said Turkey’s position on Cyprus "poses political and legal problems."

Although lobbying hard for EU membership–Turkey backs the unrecognized Turkish Cypriot administration in the north of the divided island–shunning the internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot government.

Chirac–who has previously backed Turkey’s EU candidacy–says he wants EU foreign ministers to discuss Turkey’s position on Cyprus when they meet in Wales next week.

At a meeting in Paris–he told the President of the European Commission–Jose Manuel Barroso–that Turkey’s refusal to recognize Cyprus was not in the spirit expected of a candidate state.

The prospect of Turkey joining the EU has worried voters–contributing to the rejection of the proposed EU constitution in the French referendum in May–and surfacing as an election issue in Germany.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin has said it is "inconceivable" to open membership talks with a country that does not recognize all 25 EU member states.

Last month–Turkey signed an accord extending its customs agreement with the EU to the 10 newest EU states–including Cyprus. However–it said that doing so did not imply that it recognized the government in Nicosia.

Cyprus has been split into the Greek-Cypriot-controlled south and the Turkish-occupied north since Turkey invaded in 1974.

Conservatives Say No to Turkey Again

The favorite to win Germany’s general election next month–Angela Merkel also urged caution on the Turkish bid.

The leader of Germany’s centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) wrote to 11 European leaders–advising them to offer Turkey a privileged partnership with the EU instead of full membership.

In a letter to conservative EU heads of state ahead of a Sept. 1 summit–chancellor candidate Angela Merkel has renewed her call for the EU to offer Turkey a "privileged partnership" instead of full membership.

Merkel penned the letter along with Christian Social Union leader Edmund Stoiber–timing it to hit the desk of center-right leaders just before an informal meeting on Thursday of EU foreign ministers–where EU accession negotiations with Turkey will be discussed.

"We are fully convinced that accepting Turkey would overburden the EU politically–economically and socially and would endanger the European integration process," the letter–addressed to 11 European leaders–said.

The letter cited "the continuing refusal of Turkey to recognize the Republic of Cyprus–a member state–under international law" as an obstacle to Turkish membership–and also noted "still-significant problems in upholding and imposing human rights."

Merkel and Stoiber underlined that the EU was interested in a close connection between Turkey and the European Union–but "we ask you to make clear that the framework of the negotiations also includes the perspective of a privileged partnership with Turkey."

A copy of the letter also went to the current EU president–British Prime Minister Tony Blair–and EU Commission President Jose Barroso.

It is not the first time Merkel has pushed for an EU relationship with Turkey which falls short of full membership. She brought the topic up a year ago–just three weeks before the EU Commission released a report on Turkey and a few days before regional elections in two eastern German’states.

Then there was disagreement over the proposal even within her own party. Fellow Christian Democrat and former defense minister Volker Rhe reminded Merkel that the conservative government of Helmut Kohl had in 1997 signed an agreement laying out Turkey’s official EU candidate status. He said closing the door would destabilize the country and could strengthen anti-European sentiment there.

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