Turkey Faces New EU Roadblock as Cyprus Widens Veto Threat January 5, 2010Posted by Yilan in Cyprus, EU, European Union, Turkey.
Turkey faced a new obstacle to joining the European Union after Cyprus, its rival in the Mediterranean Sea, widened a threat to veto the membership talks.
Cyprus, its northern part occupied by Turkey’s army since 1974, will block EU talks in six more policy areas unless Turkey meets conditions yet to be spelled out, Foreign Minister Markos Kyprianou said.
The Cypriot step is a “targeted response, not a complete freeze or a complete halt to the process,” Kyprianou told reporters after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels today.
Facing setbacks with the EU, Turkey is seeking a higher- profile role as an energy hub and in Middle Eastern diplomacy, with President Barack Obama courting it as a go-between to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.
Turkey has made little headway toward becoming the EU’s first predominantly Muslim member since the process started in 2005, opening talks in 11 of 35 policy areas and completing one.
The EU froze talks in eight areas in 2006 to punish Turkey for barring traffic from the Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus at its ports and airports. Cyprus, an EU member, has a veto over every step of Turkish membership talks.
Cyprus didn’t threaten to use those powers to scuttle Turkey’s prospects for good, Kyprianou said. Instead, it will consider blocking talks to align Turkey’s policies with the EU in six areas: labor mobility, fundamental rights, justice system, education, foreign policy and energy.
“We will be setting conditions for the opening of the chapters,” Kyprianou said. “Our intention is not to stop the Turkish accession process.”
Today’s step may compound the public opposition in Europe and growing indifference at home that have snagged Turkey’s EU aspirations. Opposition to Turkey’s membership rose in nine of 11 EU countries surveyed by the German Marshall Fund in September. Some 48 percent in France want to keep Turkey out, backing calls by President Nicolas Sarkozy for the EU to offer Turkey enhanced trade ties instead.
The dispute with Cyprus, an EU member since 2004, has dogged Turkey’s bid from the start. Efforts to reunify the island — backed by the Turkish-controlled north and rejected by the internationally recognized Greek-speaking south in 2004 — have bogged down since resuming in September 2008.
The expanded veto threat poked a hole in an EU declaration today that insisted the entry bid is on track while making what has become an annual demand on Turkey to end its trade embargo on Cyprus.
As part of today’s agreement, the EU said that by the end of the year it would start talks to bring Turkey’s environmental standards up to European levels. Kyprianou said Cyprus won’t block that move.
In an unrelated dispute, Greece barred the EU from setting a date for the start of talks with the Republic of Macedonia, saying the country’s name implies a territorial claim on a Greek province of the same name.
Serbia’s bid for entry talks got a boost when the Dutch government gave the go-ahead to a free-trade accord, a first step to membership. The next step is for Serbia to apply for entry, something originally planned for this year.