EU Feuds with Turkey over Cyprus Trade

(Combined sources)–European Union leaders feuded with Turkey over its EU entry bid–threatening to halt the Turkish government’s quest for membership only days after the start of negotiations.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan–the Turkish prime minister–rejected deman’s from European leaders for it to open its borders to Greek-Cypriot shipping by the end of the year–prompting leaders such as French President Jacques Chirac to warn of a breakdown in ties. Turkey’s trade embargo against EU member Cyprus "will put in doubt its capacity to proceed with the enlargement process," Chirac said after an EU summit in Brussels on Friday.

Turkey declared on Friday it was prepared to abandon EU membership negotiations rather than open its ports and airports to Cyprus.

In one of his strongest statemen’s to date–Erdogan warned that Turkey would not move until the EU ends a trade embargo on the "republic of northern Cyprus"–which is recognized by no one but the Turks since their 1974 invasion.

Speaking to the Chamber of Commerce in Istanbul–Erdogan said: "Don’t expect anything … not on the subject of the ports and airports."

Brussels has warned Ankara that it must open its ports and airports to all EU countries – including Greek Cyprus – by the end of the year or risk a disruption of its membership negotiations.

The tough stance adopted by Erdogan showed how Turkey’s EU membership talks are heading for a crisis in the fall when the European Commission delivers its annual progress report. Olli Rehn–the European enlargement commissioner–has warned of a "train crash" unless Turkey opens up its ports and speeds up reforms on human rights and free speech.

Negotiations got off to a bumpy start on June 12–when Turkey dropped a last-minute boycott threat after the EU persuaded Cyprus not to press for an immediate opening of Turkish ports to Cypriot shipping.

"Unless the isolation imposed on the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is lifted–don’t expect anything from us," Erdogan said Friday.

United Nations efforts to reunify the island broke down in 2004 when Greek Cypriots rejected a UN unification plan that was supported by Turkish Cypriots and by Erdogan’s government. The EU restricts trade with northern Cyprus.

Turkey’s refusal to allow Cypriot ships into its ports "would be a problem," said Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel–who chaired the EU Brussels meeting. He demanded that Turkey free trade with Cyprus by the end of the year.

"It would be completely wrong to pretend that this is not a huge challenge," European Commission President Jose Barroso said of Turkey’s quest for membership.

The slowdown of the pace of enlargement reflects animosity in countries such as France and the Netherlands–which last year threw the EU into political disarray by vetoing a constitution designed to streamline its decision-making machinery. A series of European leaders warned Turkey that it must act unilaterally and not attempt to link the opening of ports to the lifting of the trade embargo on northern Cyprus. Jacques Chirac–the French president–said talks may have to be suspended unless Turkey acts.

The spat between Ankara and the EU capped one of the worst weeks in EU-Turkish relations since membership talks opened last October. Cyprus came close to derailing the opening of the detailed stage of the talks on Monday when it demanded that Turkey recognize its half of the island. A crisis was averted after EU foreign ministers agreed to remind Ankara that it must recognize Nicosia during the membership negotiations–which could last up to 15 years.

Angela Merkel–the German chancellor–will outline a detailed set of proposals in a year’s time when she holds the EU’s rotating presidency. A deadline for reaching a decision has been set for the second half of 2008–by which time France will hold the presidency.

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