TODAY.AZ / Politics

Finnish PM optimistic EU can avoid breakdown in Turkey membership talks

26 October 2006 [01:04] - TODAY.AZ
Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen said Wednesday he was optimistic the European Union would continue membership negotiations with Turkey and avoid a breakdown in talks over the pace of the country's reforms.

"We're working very hard to find a solution so we can continue negotiations with Turkey. I hope that a reasonable solution will be found, and I hope it will be found this autumn," he said in the European Parliament, adding that he was "optimistic."

The EU has made little headway in resolving a stalemate over Ankara's refusal to open its ports to Cypriot planes and ships — a decision that the EU had said could lead to Turkey's membership talks being suspended in December.

Vanhanen said the EU was working on a "new kind of initiative" to solve the situation, but gave no details. He said the Turkish issue will be the most difficult of the final months of Finland's EU presidency, which ends Dec. 31.

Both Greece and Cyprus, backed by other EU nations, have threatened to block future talks if Ankara does not live up to an agreement signed last year to extend its customs union with the Greek Cypriot part of Cyprus, which joined the EU in 2004.

Vanhanen stopped short of indicating whether the EU would break off the talks if Turkey did not open its ports to Cypriots by the end of the year as required. The EU is also critical of provisions in Turkey's penal code suppressing freedom of expression.

In Nicosia, Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos said Wednesday that Turkey risked creating a rift with the EU unless it lifted a trade embargo on Cyprus. He said the responsibility for avoiding a crisis in relations between Turkey and the EU lies with Ankara.

Turkey has refused to accept Greek Cypriot shipments until an international embargo against Turkish Cypriots in the north of the Mediterranean island is lifted.

A recent Finnish compromise plan offered to reduce restrictions on the Turkish-run north of the island if Turkey in turn opened its ports to the Greek Cypriots.

Earlier this month, Greece and Cyprus forced the EU to postpone the opening of a new chapter of Turkey's EU membership talks — on industrial policy — until a solution to the customs dispute was found.

The dispute has also threatened ongoing efforts to reunite the two sides of the island, which has been divided since Turkey invaded in 1974 after an attempted coup by supporters of union with Greece. Turkey has no diplomatic relations with the island's internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government, and backs the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north.

In 2004, Greek Cypriots voted against a U.N.-backed plan aimed at reuniting the country on the eve of its entry into the EU, essentially excluding the north from receiving EU benefits. Turkish Cypriots approved the reunification plan in a separate referendum. The Associated Press

/The International Herald Tribune/


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