Turkey’s EU Bid Suffers Setback as Cyprus Talks End

HELSINKI, Finland (Bloomberg)–The European Union abandoned efforts to resolve a diplomatic deadlock over Turkey’s trade curbs on Cyprus this year, bringing closer a possible suspension of Turkey’s bid to join the EU. “At this stage circumstances do not permit that an agreement could be reached during the Finnish presidency,” Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja said in an e-mailed statement Monday in Helsinki today. Tuomioja said Finland would immediately “start preparing the handling of the continuation of Turkey’s EU accession negotiations.” Turkey must lift its trade restrictions on Greek-speaking Cyprus within two weeks to avoid a possible shelving of the talks, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said on Nov. 21. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul called the deadline “blackmail,” CNN Turk television reported. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country takes over the EU’s rotating, six-month presidency from Finland on Jan. 1, Monday repeated skepticism about Turkey’s membership aspirations, telling her party conference that unless the mainly Muslim nation ends its trade embargo on Cyprus by the end of this year, “simply carrying on with the negotiations cannot and will not occur.” “The talks we’re conducting with Turkey aren’t tied to any result,” she told the ruling Christian Democratic Union party conference in Dresden, Germany. “But as party chairwoman I say: It is right and remains right to offer Turkey a privileged partnership with the EU instead of full membership.” Politicians including French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy have previously backed Merkel’s line. Finland ditched an attempt to broker an agreement between Turkey and Cyprus lifting the trade embargo after meetings with Turkey’s Gul and his Cypriot counterpart George Lillikas in Tampere, Finland Monday. EU anger is growing after Turkey backtracked on a pledge to end the curbs on Cyprus in return for winning the go-ahead to start accession negotiations 13 months ago. The Turkish government now says this step requires the bloc to allow trade with a part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey since a 1974 invasion. “Merkel’s speech suggests that Turkey is going to be up against it,” said Tim Ash, an economist at Bear Stearns in London, in a note to investors. “It still remains unlikely that accession talks with be completely suspended as Turkey’s friends in Europe will likely veto that, but the mood music is likely to turn very negative.” Europe’s leaders will consider what action, if any, to take against Turkey at an EU summit on Dec. 14 in Brussels. The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, will meet Dec. 6 to draw up recommendations for the Dec. 14 meeting. While all of the EU’s 25 members would need to approve the suspension of Turkey’s membership bid, any one nation may block the opening and closing of the 35 regulatory chapters that make up the negotiations, holding up the decade-long process. Nations including Britain, Italy and the Netherlands back Turkey’s quest for membershio in the European Union, saying the nation’s membership will help boost democracy in the Middle East. Italy and France will seek to promote Turkey’s talks with the EU, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Nov. 24 after talks with French President Jacques Chirac.

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