EU deal paves way for Turkey talks
Friday, December 17, 2004 Posted: 11:26 AM EST (1626 GMT)

Turks have welcomed the EU's decision to open talks on entry.

BRUSSELS, Belgium (CNN) - The European Union and Turkey reached agreement Friday on a deal that will allow Turkey to begin negotiations next year on full membership of the union.

The deal sidesteps an EU demand that Turkey immediately recognize the Greek Cypriot-led government of Cyprus. Under the terms of the deal, Turkey does not have to sign immediately a customs union agreement that would effectively recognize the Cypriot government. Instead, the language of the deal says that the customs union pact must be signed by the time talks begin on Turkey's EU membership in October next year.

Emerging from a two-day EU summit, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the membership talks - a contentious issue in many EU nations - will open October 3. "I am very satisfied with the result," said Schroeder, who left the summit early to attend a parliamentary session in Berlin.

"It is an historic event," said British Prime Minister Tony Blair. "It shows that those who believe there is a fundamental clash of civilizations between Christians and Muslims are actually wrong; that they can work together; that we can cooperate together. And I think that is of fundamental importance for the future of peace and prosperity."

CNN's European Political Correspondent Robin Oakley said that putting off signing the customs deal, according to diplomats, allowed the Turkish government more time to sell the unpopular move. The deal also assures Turkey that when membership talks begin, they will deal with full membership for Turkey. Turkish officials had feared that the EU diplomats would push for a lesser associate membership.

Diplomats said EU and Turkish officials Friday rewrote the portion of the EU's offer that would have required Turkey to initial a customs union agreement and thereby effectively recognize the Greek Cypriot-led government.

The 25 EU leaders met Friday afternoon to review the revised draft. Turkey still maintains troops on the divided Mediterranean island 30 years after invading to block a coup by Greek Cypriots seeking union with Greece.

The EU leaders agreed Thursday to begin membership talks with Ankara on October 3, but linked the offer to effective Turkish recognition of Cyprus, which joined the EU in May.

Turkey, which had hoped for an April start date, opposes early recognition. The Europeans proposed Turkey sign an accord expanding its existing customs union with the EU to include the 10 new members that joined in May - including Cyprus. The Europeans said that would satisfy the demand for recognition. They wanted Turkey to initial the customs union agreement Friday and then sign it before accession talks begin next year. But the Turks believed even that step went too far.

"The mood in the Turkish delegation is one of disappointment," an Erdogan aide told reporters as the Turkish leader prepared to meet Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, the summit host. The aide spoke on condition of anonymity.

To win over the Turks, EU officials said Balkenende was redrafting the statement on the customs union formula. Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht said the deliberations were difficult "but I'm pretty sure there will be a deal."

Differences over the decades-long issue of Cyprus, split between Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities, have long been a source of irritation between Turkey and Western Europe. But Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul told reporters Thursday that recognition of Cyprus, "either directly or indirectly," was "out of the question." Erdogan and Balkenende failed to reach agreement on the start date for membership negotiations during talks that lasted past midnight Friday after the EU made its offer.

"We realized very big issues are at stake," Balkenende said. In the draft of a summit statement, the EU leaders urged Turkey to stay the course on political reforms and push for "zero tolerance" of torture and mistreatment.

Membership talks will be "open-ended," meaning they will not automatically lead to membership, although that is the goal. If the talks fail to lead to full membership, the EU will not abandon Ankara but "anchor Turkey in European structures," according to the draft text. Cyprus has been split into a Turkish Cypriot north and an internationally recognized Greek Cypriot south since Turkey's invasion in 1974. Turkey is the only country that recognizes the breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in the north.

Last May, the EU expanded by 10 nations to become a 25-member union. The 10 new members were Cyprus, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

source: CNN