EU Envoys Wrangle over Response to Turkey on Cyprus

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–European Union envoys quarreled on Wednesday over a response to Turkey’s refusal to recognize Cyprus or admit Cypriot ships and aircraft–as a Europe-wide poll showed a drop in public support for Ankara’s bid.

The Cyprus issue is one of the final hurdles to Turkey opening membership talks with the 25-nation bloc on October 3. Countries such as France and Austria–facing strong public pressure to oppose Turkish entry–have rallied behind Nicosia.

A pan-European opinion survey conducted in early June and released on Wednesday showed support for Turkish membership had fallen since last year in EU countries and Turkey itself.

The study for the German Marshall Fund of the USA showed only 22 percent of voters in nine EU countries believed Turkey’s entry would be a good thing–29 percent said it would be a bad thing–up 9 percent–and 42 percent neither good nor bad.

A draft declaration circulated by EU president Britain said Turkey must apply its customs union without discriminating among EU member states and Brussels would review Ankara’s implementation of its obligations next year.

Cyprus and its supporters were pressing for tougher wording making clear that–if Turkey did not end its blockade of Cypriot shipping and flights by the review date–the EU would suspend or restrict the accession talks–diplomats said.

But the main dispute was over when and how the EU should expect Turkey to recognize Cyprus–with Nicosia pressing for it to be linked to the EU accession process rather than to UN efforts to seek a settlement to the division of the island.

The draft statement omitted any wording on the issue as British diplomats held private meetings with the Cypriots and others to seek an acceptable formula. Diplomats said it was not clear whether a deal could be reached on Wednesday.

Turkish leaders warned last week they would make no more concessions to secure the opening of talks–having met the two conditions EU leaders set last December by bringing key legal reforms into effect and signing a protocol extending their customs union to new EU member states–including Cyprus.

Diplomats said the European Union would issue a unilateral declaration in response to Turkey’s July 29 statement on Cyprus attached to its signature of the protocol.

The EU must still agree unanimously on a negotiating mandate for the talks–giving Cyprus another chance to raise its deman’s and Turkey’s critics an opportunity to insist the EU’s ability to absorb such a big candidate country must be a key factor.

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