Fresh rows flare up in countdown to Turkey talks
By Mark Beunderman
02.09.2005 - 09:52 CET

| EUOBSERVER / NEWPORT - The atmosphere between Brussels and Ankara is
set to worsen following fresh rows over Cyprus and free speech, one
month before accession talks with Turkey are scheduled to start. The
Commission has drawn a "red line" on Cyprus.

While EU foreign ministers were yesterday (1 September) at a meeting
in Wales struggling to draft a counter-declaration to Turkey's
non-recognition of Cyprus, Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul
publicly took a defiant stance on the Cyprus issue.

Mr Gul stated to the press that Turkey, as a non-EU member state,
does not feel obliged to allow Cypriot planes and ships to enter
its territory - something the EU says is against the spirit of the
customs agreement that Ankara signed with the enlarged EU on 29 July.

"Expectations from full members and expectations from candidate
countries are quite different", the Turkish minister said according
to the FT. "Everybody knows what the customs union means", he added.

Enlargement commissioner Olli Rehn today (2 September) just before
meeting Mr Gul in Newport rebuffed the Turkish stance, stating that the
"full implementation" of the customs agreement represents a "red line
for the European Union".

"This is not a matter of negotiation but of commitment by Turkey",
he added.

"This issue is of extremely serious concern".

EU foreign ministers yesterday tried to reach agreement on a
"counter-declaration" to Ankara's unilateral declaration of 29 July,
which says that it does not recognize the sovereignty of Cyprus
despite extending its EU customs agreement to all new EU member states,
including Cyprus.

The UK presidency has striven to achieve general consensus on the EU
counter-declaration at the Wales meeting.

But Mr Straw told journalists that there was "broad, but not unanimous
agreement" on the text.

Diplomats indicated that there are substantial differences between
member states over the toughness of the EU's "counter-declaration".

Wrangling over words The text is set to contain a paragraph reiterating
the status of Cyprus as a state under international law.

But member states such as France, Austria, Greece and Cyprus itself
want reassurance that Ankara will over time take concrete steps
towards recognition.

"They want the declaration to have a dynamic character and call for
progress by Turkey", one council diplomat said.

The counter declaration has now been referred back to member states'
ambassadors in Brussels.

In spite of the difficulties surrounding the Cyprus issue, Mr Straw
stated that he is "reasonably confident" that the agreed deadline
for opening the accession talks with Turkey, on 3 October, will be met.

Free speech row On top of the Cyprus problem, a fresh row over freedom
of speech emerged yesterday which looks set to dampen the atmosphere
between Ankara and Brussels still further.

The widely-read author Orhan Pamuk was charged by the Turkish public
prosecutor with "denigrating" the nation through his comments about
Turkish history, made to a Swiss paper a few months ago.

Although the Turkish public prosecutor is independent from the
government, the case has already become an issue interfering with
Turkey's EU membership bid.

A spokeswoman for Commissioner Rehn told the EUobserver that the case
of Mr Pamuk raises "serious concerns" about the actual "implementation
on the ground" of political reforms by Turkey.

She added that the EU executive is also concerned about the
"interpretation of certain provisions in the penal code by judges
and prosecutors" in Turkey.

Turkey had to adapt a new penal code in order to bring its laws in
line with EU human rights standards.

Denis MacShane, the UK's former Europe minister, said "It is a
sickening blow to all pro-Turks in Britain and Europe hear
the news that the Turkish authorities seek to persecute this great
European writer", the Independent reports.