Cyprus Threatens to Veto EU’s Draft Text on Turkey

(Bloomberg)–The Cypriot government threatened to veto a European Union (EU) declaration on ties with Turkey–imperiling EU plans to start Turkish membership talks on October 3.

The last-minute threat prevented European governmen’s today from agreeing on a response to Turkey’s diplomatic boycott of EU member Cyprus and may force the 25-nation bloc to hold an emergency meeting. The UK–current holder of the EU’s rotating presidency–brokered an accord among diplomats yesterday and expected routine approval today.

"There is no agreement yet," Stavros Papagianneas–a spokesman for the Cypriot mission to the EU–said by telephone in Brussels today. "There is a proposal by the UK presidency which is being studied by us."

The month-long debate over the declaration has sidetracked the EU–holding up the passage of a negotiating plan for Turkey that needs the backing of all member nations. The plan covers 35 areas from customs and public procurement to energy and fisheries where Turkey would have to meet the bloc’s regulatory standards.

The Turkish government said in July that its signature of a protocol extending a European trade accord to Cyprus wasn’t tantamount to recognizing the Mediterranean island–whose northern tier Turkey has occupied since 1974. Signing the protocol was a condition the EU set in December for starting decade-long membership talks.

RECOGNITION

The declaration agreed on yesterday by EU government representatives urges Turkey to ensure free trade with Cyprus while moving toward normal political ties "as soon as possible.’" The EU will review progress in 2006–the statement says.

"There was approval at ambassadorial level but not ministerial level," Jonathan Allen–a British government spokesman–said by telephone today in Brussels.

He said EU diplomats would return to the issue tomorrow and did not exclude the possibility of a special meeting of EU foreign ministers on September 26.

"We don’t want to drag foreign ministers to Brussels–but if we he have to–we will," Allen said.

Papagianneas declined to say when the Cypriot government would decide on its final position and what the government’s remaining concerns might be.

Cypriot government deman’s for tougher warnings against Turkey over trade obstacles and non-recognition helped scuttle four attempts to agree on the declaration this month until yesterday’s breakthrough among diplomats. The trade curbs include a ban on Cypriot ships unloading goods in Turkish ports and Cypriot planes landing at Turkish airports.

Turkey–a nation of 72 million people–is counting on the accession talks to attract record foreign investment to its $300 billion economy. It would be one of the two most populous EU nations along with Germany–become the bloc’s first mainly Muslim member and widen the EU’s borders to Iraq.

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