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06 09 04 - Ankara threatened with partial EU talks freeze
04.09.2006 - 09:51 CET | By Mark Beunderman
EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS - The Finnish EU presidency has said Turkish EU membership negotiations could be partially suspended if Ankara continues to fail to open its ports and airports to Cypriot vessels and planes.

Finnish foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja told reporters on Saturday (2 September) that a "serious situation" would emerge if Turkey remains defiant on blocking traffic from EU member state Cyprus.

The EU last October opened accession negotiations with Turkey, but only after the Turks had signed the so-called Ankara protocol obliging it to extend a customs agreement with Brussels to the bloc's new member states - including Cyprus.

The customs agreement precludes any trade obstacles with EU members.

In the case of continuing non-compliance with the customs agreement by Ankara, "at the minimum it is understandable that we cannot continue membership negotiations on any items pertaining to the [EU's] single market," said Mr Tuomioja.

"But having said this, we still hope to avoid any crisis in our relations. It is not inevitable," he added.

In a statement adopted on 21 September 2005 just before the opening of the membership talks, the EU said that it would "evaluate full implementation" of the Ankara protocol before the end of this year.

The statement stressed that the opening of negotiations on the "relevant" negotiating chapters would depend on Turkey's willingness to open its ports and airports.

Turkey's accession talks are divided into 35 chapters, with some important sections related to the EU's internal market.

Saturday's comments by the Finnish foreign minister suggest that the EU is in any case ready to freeze talks on, for example, trade and competition policy.

Harder Cypriot line
But Cyprus - possibly with the backing of states wary of Turkish membership such as France and Austria - is expected to take a harder line, having already threatened to block the membership negotiations as a whole.

The opening and closing of any of the 35 chapters needs the approval of all 25 members of the EU, providing capitals with a raft of opportunities to block the talks.

Meanwhile the US, which strongly backs Turkish EU accession, is engaged in diplomatic efforts to avert a crisis over the issue.

Washington is proposing that in return for Turkey fulfilling its EU customs obligations, the UN could play a role in supervising free trade to the Turkish-occupied north of Cyprus, which is currently under an international trade embargo.

Ankara is so far making any concessions to Nicosia dependent on moves by the EU to end the economic isolation of northern Cyprus - something Nicosia has so far fiercely rejected as undermining its sovereignty over the whole island.


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