European Union ready to expand talks with Ankara and Zagreb

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union is set to open two new policy areas in membership negotiations with Turkey and six with Croatia at accession conferences tomorrow, EU sources said yesterday. EU president Germany had hoped to open three so-called negotiating chapters with Turkey, but France signaled it does not want to broach politically sensitive subjects it considers could prejudge the outcome of the negotiations. Diplomats will formally make the decisions at a meeting today, but Paris has made clear it will not allow Ankara to begin talks on economic and monetary policy. The move reflects new French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s declared opposition to Turkey ever joining the 27-nation club. EU sources said they were concerned about how Turkey, in the midst of a general election campaign, would react to limiting the talks to statistics and financial control. «There have been some indications that Turkey may not turn up or may downgrade its representation at the talks,» one EU source said. The EU last year suspended negotiations on eight of the 35 chapters into which European law is divided after Turkey failed to meet a requirement to open its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Reuters in an interview this month he intended to speed up reforms required for EU membership after the July 22 election, which he predicted would deliver a strong mandate for change. The EU’s negotiations with Croatia are subject to no such political sensitivities and are set to take a leap forward. An official of the German EU presidency said Zagreb was expected to expand its accession talks to the right to establish business, company law, financial services, information society and media, statistics and financial control. Croatia has already opened six other chapters in the talks and hopes to be negotiating on 20 policy areas by the end of this year with a view to wrapping up talks by the end of 2008 or in early 2009, its EU Ambassador Branko Baricevic told Reuters. The former Yugoslav republic was only allowed to start talks in October 2005 after it finally cooperated with the UN war crimes tribunal, leading to the arrest of indicted Ante Gotovina. EU officials say it is now advancing fast toward becoming the 28th member, and last weekend’s agreement to reform the bloc’s institutions opened the way for further enlargement from 2009.

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