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06 04 10 - EU states clash on political criteria in Turkey talks
EU states clash on political criteria in Turkey talks 06.04.2006 - 17:42 CET | By Mark Beunderman
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - EU member state ambassadors on Thursday (6 April) failed to agree on the opening of the second chapter of accession negotiations with Turkey, as the UK, Spain and Finland blocked a text on political entry criteria, diplomats told EUobserver.

The document, proposed by the Austrian EU presidency, was supposed to be an internal note as part of the planned opening of the second chapter of Turkey's entry negotiations, covering education and culture policy.

The note prepared by Vienna said that member states "may" raise the union's so-called Copenhagen criteria on human rights and democracy during discussions on the education and culture chapter.

In practical terms, the wording on political criteria in relation to education would highlight that EU states could point to Turkish shortcomings in, for example, equal opportunities for boys and girls' access to education or the passages on minorities in Turkish schoolbooks.

But the UK, Finland and Spain blocked the note, arguing the inclusion of political criteria into technical talks on different topics would represent a "completely new way of operating," said one contact.

The countries feared that political criteria would now become a major topic in each of the 35 negotiating chapters.

Ambassadors suspended the talks on Thursday without agreeing on a new date to pick up the thorny topic, with one diplomat saying "delay" in the opening of the education chapter was likely.

The Austrian presidency had prepared the note after strong pressure primarily from France and Cyprus.

Paris is deeply uneasy about Turkish EU membership and Nicosia is embroiled with Ankara in a dispute over its own status.

Legally, all member states have to unanimously agree on the opening and closing of each of the 35 negotiating chapters, creating a raft of opportunities for EU capitals to threaten with a veto or to effectively block progress in the talks.

Diplomats and experts warn that a "political crisis" with Turkey is on the horizon later this year, on Turkey's continued refusal to allow Cypriot vessels enter its ports.

According to a customs agreement that Turkey extended to the enlarged EU - including Cyprus - the Turks should allow Cypriot vessels to dock.

But Turkey does not recognise Cyprus and demands steps by the EU to end the economic isolation of Turkish-populated Northern Cyprus, which in turn is being blocked by Cyprus.


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