Turkey taken to task over its Cyprus stance

PARIS/BERLIN (Combined reports) – French President Jacques Chirac yesterday toughened his stance on conditions for Turkey to start EU negotiations, saying its refusal to recognize Cyprus was not in the spirit of what the European Union expects from potential members. Chirac raised his concerns during a meeting with EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, said Jerome Bonnafont, spokesman for the Elysee Palace. Turkey’s position «poses political and judicial problems and isn’t in the spirit of what we expect from a candidate for the Union,» Chirac said, quoted by Bonnafont. Turkey signed an accord extending its customs agreement with the EU to Cyprus and other new EU members on July 29, a key prerequisite before it can open entry talks with the bloc, due October 3. However, in a separate declaration, Turkey said its signature to the customs deal was not a recognition of the Cypriot government. France believes Turkey’s second declaration cancels out the customs deal. Chirac yesterday called for «guarantees and clarifications» on the application of the customs deal. He said France wishes to discuss the issue with other EU members at an informal meeting of foreign affairs ministers in Britain next week. Merkel persists Meanwhile, German opposition leader Angela Merkel, tipped to become the country’s next chancellor, again voiced her opposition to Turkey becoming a full member of the European Union in a letter to 11 European leaders published yesterday. «We are convinced that Turkey’s accession would place too heavy a political, economic and social burden on the EU and threaten European integration,» Merkel wrote on behalf of her conservative Christian Democratic Union. «The continuing refusal of Turkey to recognize the Republic of Cyprus, a member state, under international law is a powerful encumbrance to the beginning of negotiations with Turkey,» the letter added. The letter was addressed to the prime ministers of Britain, France, Italy, Greece, Luxembourg, Lithuania, Malta, Slovakia and Slovenia, the Czech foreign minister, the president of the Council of Europe and the president of the EU’s executive commission, Jose Manuel Barroso. Merkel, who looks set to unseat Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder in the general election on September 18, does not think Turkey is ready to join the bloc but backs the idea of a «privileged partnership» with Europe for the predominantly Muslim state. «Such a partnership would allow us to help strengthen the development of democracy and the rule of law in Turkey, as well as the economy,» she said. But Merkel warned that if Ankara continued to demand full membership, it must be prepared to walk away empty-handed if it fails to meet all the EU’s requirements. «There will be no realistic alternative,» she said. (AP, AFP)