BERLIN – Germany’s conservatives, staunch opponents of Turkish European Union membership and tipped to win elections in September, yesterday backed French comments casting doubt over an October 3 start to Ankara’s entry talks. Raising a potential new hurdle for Ankara, French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Tuesday the Turks must recognize EU member Cyprus, the subject of a decades-old dispute between Turkey and Greece, before any talks could begin. Germany’s Christian Democrats (CDU), whom polls tip to win an election slated for September 18, said they shared Villepin’s reservations and urged Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a firm backer of Turkey’s bid, to clarify his position. «Villepin is right. It is indeed difficult to imagine that negotiations can start with a country that has not beforehand recognized every single member of the EU,» Friedbert Pflueger, the party’s foreign policy spokesman, told Reuters. «Ankara’s position does not make sense and goes against the spirit of the criteria set for opening talks on October 3. Now the (German) government must state clearly how it will deal with this issue,» he said in a statement read out by an aide. A German Foreign Ministry spokesman declined to comment on Villepin’s comments. Current EU president Britain was dealing with procedural matters ahead of the negotiations, he said. Last week, Turkey cleared the last formal hurdle to opening those talks by signing a protocol extending its customs union with the bloc to new member states, including Cyprus. However, it issued a declaration making clear the protocol did not mean it recognized the divided Mediterranean island. A British presidency official said EU leaders had never made recognition of Cyprus a condition for opening talks. Villepin was French foreign minister at that time. Downward spiral CDU deputy Wolfgang Schaeuble, who along with Pflueger is a key voice shaping the party’s foreign policy, thought otherwise. «To my recollection, the Council decision was that a way be found so that Turkey must recognize all EU members before the start of entry negotiations,» he told Reuters by telephone. It was not immediately clear what had prompted Villepin to raise doubts over the start of talks, or whether those doubts were shared by President Jacques Chirac. Public opinion in France – as across Europe – has swung strongly against Turkish accession. French presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy joined CDU chancellor candidate Angela Merkel to argue for a «privileged partnership» status for Turkey, rather than EU membership, when Merkel visited Paris in July. Polls published yesterday showed the CDU maintaining a 16-19 percent lead on Schroeder’s Social Democrats. Even if the CDU wins the September 18 election, it will not have taken office by the time Turkish entry talks are due to start, and so would not be in a position by itself to halt them. Ulrike Guerot, analyst at the German Marshall Fund think tank, said many in the CDU would be relishing Ankara’s difficulties nonetheless. «There is a risk of a downward spiral in which talks open, but immediately get frozen. Ankara might then react negatively and exacerbate the situation. There are some in the CDU who would not regret such a development,» she said.