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Wednesday, November 29, 2006

EU Commission Urges Suspension of Turkish Entry Talks

Nov. 29 (Bloomberg) -- The European Union's executive body urged a suspension of accession talks with Turkey because of its embargo on EU member state Cyprus, a step that may kill the Turkish entry bid.

The European Commission recommended freezing about a quarter of the accession program to punish Turkey for barring ships and planes from Greek-speaking Cyprus. The proposal would also prevent entry negotiations on issues including trade, transport and agriculture.

``Failure to meet legal obligations cannot remain without consequences,'' Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said at a news conference in Brussels today. Foreign ministers from the EU's 25 nations, which have the final say over negotiations with aspiring members, will discuss the recommendation on Dec. 11.

EU anger is growing after Turkey backtracked on a pledge to end the curbs on Cyprus in return for winning the go-ahead to start accession negotiations 13 months ago. The Turkish government now says this step requires the bloc to allow trade with a part of Cyprus occupied by Turkey for three decades.

The commission's recommendation reflects broader anxieties about admitting Turkey, which would be the first Muslim member and one of the bloc's most populous nations. The Turkish embargo is a lightning rod for criticism that extends to demands for more Turkish media and religious freedoms.

Eight Chapters

Both sides have completed one of 35 regulatory ``chapters'' due to be covered by the negotiations over the coming decade, sealing an accord on Turkish research laws in June.

The commission recommended the suspension of eight chapters on issues that also include customs, fisheries, financial services, other services and external relations. The commission also recommended that no chapter be completed before Turkey lifts the curbs against Cyprus.

``The recommendation is both clear and measured,'' commission President Jose Barroso said in a statement.

Turkey has occupied northern Cyprus since a 1974 invasion after a coup by Greek Cypriot supporters of union with Greece. Turkey, which refuses to recognize the Mediterranean island republic, has 30,000 soldiers in the occupied region.

The EU says Turkey has a legal obligation to open its ports to Cyprus while working toward a political settlement on the island. ``The European Union is a community of law,'' Rehn said.

`Golden Goal'

The commission recommendation will slow Turkey's accession process while avoiding a ``train crash,'' Rehn said. He pressed the Turkish government to meet the EU's demands over Cyprus before the Dec. 11 foreign ministers' meeting, saying ``Turkey can still score a golden goal.''

The recommendation seeks to balance the demands of EU skeptics of Turkish entry including France, Germany and Austria and U.K.-led supporters who say the bloc should push harder for Turkish accession. Yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI reversed his stance and expressed support for Turkish entry into the EU.

Cyprus joined the EU in May 2004 without the occupied northern region because voters in the Greek-speaking south rejected a United Nations-backed unification plan. The Turkish- speaking north endorsed the plan, leading Ankara to blame the Cypriot government for the island's continuing division.

In February, EU governments approved 139 million euros ($183 million) in aid for northern Cyprus as a reward while refusing to let the region trade with the bloc.

The debate about opening commercial ties with northern Cyprus raises intractable issues linked to unification. The Cypriot government says it would veto any EU plan for trade with the Turkish-occupied region without the return of a town called Varosha that Greek-speaking Cypriots abandoned after Turkey's invasion.

The Finnish government, current holder of the EU's rotating presidency, has failed over the past several weeks to find a diplomatic solution to the trade dispute.
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