EU feuds over Turkey

The government has been thrown somewhat off balance by the stance adopted by two key European Union member states, France and Germany, in relation to the scheduled launch of Turkey’s accession talks with the European Union in October. This follows Friday’s declarations by both French President Jacques Chirac and Germany’s opposition Christian Democratic leader Angela Merkel – expected to be elected chancellor in next month’s general elections – concerning Ankara’s persistent refusal to recognize Cyprus. Turkey’s stance «poses political and judicial problems, and isn’t in the spirit of what we expect from a candidate for the union,» Chirac told European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso on Friday. The same day, Merkel sent letters to 11 European leaders, including Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, stressing that «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.» Evidently, Chirac made his overture to Barroso in reaction to the stance taken by the British EU presidency. According to sources, Tony Blair’s government maintains that Turkey’s declaration – of non-recognition of Cyprus – does not contradict its signing of an EU protocol extending its customs agreement to 10 new member states, including Cyprus; also, the UK presidency is reportedly preparing a «joint statement» by all 25 member states attesting to this. The EC’s advisers also reportedly agree with the British outlook. Britain also maintains that Ankara’s signing of the customs protocol does not oblige it to allow Cypriot vessels to dock at Turkish ports or Cypriot aircraft to fly over Turkish airspace. This was the stance that Blair pitched to Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos in London. The latter, however, has stressed from the outset that signing the protocol also obliges Ankara to fulfill all its new obligations arising from the extension of its customs pact. He also rejected Britain’s interpretation. Karamanlis’s government, meanwhile, is not entirely satisfied with the British stance, and it indicated that it would persist until Ankara pledges to unreservedly enforce the protocol. Chirac’s tough declarations suggest that he will put up quite a fight at the meeting of EU permanent representatives (COREPER) in Brussels on Wednesday and at the subsequent informal summit of EU foreign ministers in Wales. Even if it does not insist that Ankara revoke its statement, the French government will doubtless demand that the EU’s joint statement should clearly state that Turkey’s potential accession should be re-examined following the negotiations even if these are successful. In any case, a French clash with the British EU presidency this week appears inevitable and this has visibly thrown Karamanlis’s government.