Cyprus Blocks Opening of First Chapter in EU Turkey Talks

BRUSSELS (EU Observer)–Cyprus has blocked the opening of Turkey’s first negotiating chapter with the EU–with intense weekend diplomacy expected before meeting of the Foreign Ministers on Monday.

The opening of the "science and research" legislative chapter is scheduled for Monday at a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers with their Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul in Luxembourg.

The move would mean the first concrete work on one of the 35 negotiating chapters that EU candidate state Turkey has to go through before acceding to the bloc.

As there is no real EU legislation on science and research–the EU intended to close the chapter on the same day–Monday.

But at a meeting of the member states’ ambassadors on Friday–Cyprus fiercely resisted the closing of the chapter–demanding political concessions from Ankara first.

Diplomats said Nicosia wants to see progress on Turkey ending its continued non-recognition of Cyprus and its blockade of Cypriot shipping and air traffic.

"The Austrian EU presidency regrets that we did not reach a unanimous agreement in Coreper [Member States’ Permanent Representatives Committee]," said an Austrian spokesman.

"We stand ready for further negotiations in order to solve this issue–also over the weekend," said the spokesman. "The topic will now be handed over to Foreign Ministers on Monday."

A compromise text on the chapter prepared by Vienna contained a reference to the EU’s September 21 statement–which requires Turkey to recognize EU member Cyprus–as well as open its ports and airports to Cypriot vessels and planes

Nicosia has now made clear that if Ankara makes no progress in meeting these deman’s–it could veto the opening or closing of any chapter in Turkey’s EU entry talks.

The starting and finishing of each of the 35 legislative chapters requires the unanimous consent of EU member states.

Diplomats said–however–that Cyprus may–after an intense weekend of diplomacy–back down on Monday–amid Turkish media reports that Gul could snub the EU by boycotting Monday’s meeting.

Meanwhile–the row is unlikely to affect the membership bid of Croatia–which received the green light from EU ambassadors to open and close the science and research chapter on Monday.

Zagreb could enter the EU around 2009-2010–while 2015 is seen as a more likely possible accession date for Ankara.

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