EU ‘May Halt Turkey Entry Bid’

HELSINKI(Reuters)–The European Union said on Thursday that Turkey’s membership negotiations could be halted unless it moves on Cyprus and makes progress on reforms–but the EU hopes to avoid a crisis later this year.

Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn was quoted by the Finnish news agency STT as saying–in response to a question–that the EU could suspend talks completely.

"There is that possibility. I hope that we don’t have to resort to that–but we have no reason not to use it if there are grounds for that," Rehn said. Finland–which takes over the 25-nation bloc’s rotating presidency from July 1–also said that refusal to fulfill an obligation to open Turkish ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus could jeopardize the talks.

"This is not a threat. I just want to note the fact that it will cause a serious issue … in the negotiations and may even endanger the continuation of the negotiations," Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja told a news conference in Brussels.

EU ambassadors decided for the first time on Wednesday to move forward faster in accession talks with Croatia than with Turkey because of Ankara’s refusal to open its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus.

"I am a realist and that is why I have tried to warn about a possible collision in negotiations–unless Turkey holds to its commitmen’s on Cyprus and speeds up its reforms," Rehn was quoted as saying.

The Turkish lira weakened briefly on the news–traders said–but the reaction was limited.

Turkey–which invaded northern Cyprus in 1974 in response to a short-lived coup engineered by Greece’s then ruling military junta–does not recognize the Greek Cypriot Nicosia government.

The EU says Ankara must open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic under an agreement signed last year extending its customs union to 10 new EU member states–including Cyprus.

In a statement last year–the EU said failure to comply with the customs protocol would affect the "relevant chapters" of the talks–which are split into 35 policy areas known as chapters.

But statemen’s by some EU officials have raised the stakes by suggesting the entire accession process may be frozen.

Rehn’s office said the Commissioner had not intended to break new ground and had added: "It is always better to look for solutions which keep negotiations ongoing and which make the candidate country fulfil the conditions of the negotiations."

Tuomioja also said Finland would work hard to find ways to prevent a "dramatic situation" later this year when an EU summit will consider a review by the executive European Commission of Turkey’s compliance.

The EU agreed on Wednesday to open detailed talks with both Turkey and Croatia on competition policy but only with Zagreb on customs–since the Commission has not finished screening the compatibility of Turkish legislation with EU law due to Cyprus.

It was the first time the EU had made Turkey wait in the talks because of its stance over Cyprus–reaffirmed by Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan last week. Erdogan says Turkey will only open its ports if the EU makes good on a pledge to ease the economic isolation of the Turkish Cypriots by allowing direct trade with northern Cyprus. Brussels rejects any such linkage.

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