EU spars with Cyprus

BRUSSELS – European Union ambassadors wrangled with Cyprus yesterday over terms for concluding the first detailed accession negotiations with Turkey, with Nicosia digging in its heels, diplomats said. The diplomats said Cyprus reopened a tentative deal on the wording of a draft to finalize talks with Ankara on Monday on the uncontroversial policy area of science and research, the first of 35 so-called negotiating «chapters.» The Greek Cypriots want a more explicit reference to Turkey’s obligation to implement an agreement signed last year extending its customs union with the EU to the 10 new member states, including Cyprus, which Turkey does not recognize. «The Cypriot ambassador has his instructions and no room for maneuver,» one EU diplomat said. Austria, which holds the EU presidency, has called a cooling-off period and the envoys were to return to the issue later yesterday. Some diplomats said the issue might have to be settled by EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg on Monday, raising doubt about whether the accession conference with Turkey would take place as planned. But an Austrian official said that was not envisaged. In any case, the EU will hold a regular foreign ministers’ meeting with Turkey in Luxembourg, at which the Europeans are set to criticize a slowdown in Ankara’s reform process. The EU negotiating position agreed on Thursday highlights persistent problems in human and minority rights, religious freedom and civilian control over the military. Turkey’s chief EU negotiator said on Thursday his country should be prepared for potential delays and setbacks in its accession process, apparently anticipating a rough ride. «The Turkish economy is resilient to all kinds of developments at home and abroad, (but) everyone should be ready for occasional slippages and problems with the EU,» Ali Babacan, who is also economy minister, told a conference. «We are going to walk through a path with ups and downs. Sometimes it is going to slow down, sometimes it is going to speed up and maybe from time to time there will be some delays.» European Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn repeated to the ambassadors on Thursday his warnings of a potential «train crash» with Turkey later this year over Cyprus. The EU says Turkey’s political, human rights and economic reforms have largely ground to a halt since Ankara won a start to membership negotiations last October and will demand that it «vigorously pursue its reform process and implementation.» The slower pace after a three-year sprint is partly due to the government focusing on domestic politics ahead of next year’s presidential and parliamentary elections, diplomats say. The EU will remind Ankara of its obligation, under last year’s agreement, to open its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus, on which the Commission will report later this year.

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