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050727 - Turkey may sign key agreement
26.07.2005 - 09:59 CET | By Honor Mahony
Turkey is set to take an important step on its way to opening membership negotiations with the EU by signing a protocol extending a customs agreement to all 10 new member states.

According to Reuters news agency, Turkey will on Wednesday sign the agreement which would also include Cyprus, currently not recognised by Ankara.

A spokesperson for the Turkish mission in Brussels told the EUobserver that the could not confirm the dates adding "we are at the moment waiting for the text from the UK presidency".

"But after we get the text we will sign it", said the spokesperson.

The UK presidency, for its part, indicated that both sides are keen to get an agreement before the August break.

The EU has made it a condition of opening membership negotiations that Turkey sign this agreement but has not made recognising Cyprus a condition.

Turkey is set to include a clarification on this point when it signs the protocol but its wording will be carefully scrutinised by Brussels, if it is too harsh it could scupper a deal.

Signature of the 1963 agreement would mean acknowledging Cyprus as an EU member - something which has not been the case to date.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 after Turkey invaded the island in reaction to a Greek-inspired coup in Nicosia - Ankara recognises only the Turkish-controlled northern part of the island.

If Turkey signs the protocol, it will do so at a time when feelings about further EU enlargement are running high.

Negative sentiment
A recent poll by the EU's eurobarometer showed that 35 percent of EU citizens are in favour of Turkish membership of the bloc, with 52 percent opposed.

The opposition to Ankara joining the EU is highest in Austria (80%) and Germany (74%).

On top of this, the conditions surrounding the accession talks for Ankara remain the strongest ever attached to an EU hopeful.

EU leaders in December agreed that "long transitions periods, specific arrangements or permanent safeguard clauses ...may be considered".

Leaders also make clear that Turkey cannot join until at least 2014 and that the negotiations are "an open-ended process, the outcome of which cannot be guaranteed beforehand".

A possibility to break off the talks has also been included in "case of a persistent breach...of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law".

A complaint by one third of member states is enough to bring a decision on whether to break off the talks to the council table.


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