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Europe

Turkey sees growing reservations over EU bid

The EU's annual report on Turkey's membership bid has praised Ankara for its reform and foreign policy initiatives. But this is being met with little enthusiasm in Turkey as doubts over its bid continue to grow.

eu and turkish flags in front of a mosque

Turkey still needs to step up reforms to join the EU

The European Commission's annual progress report on Turkey's bid to join the European Union will have been welcome reading for the Turkish government. It was largely positive, stressing important steps on reforms to improve freedom of expression, efforts to resolve the conflict with Kurdish rebels and significant diplomatic initiatives, like improving relations with Armenia.

Brussels did voice concerns about press freedom in relation to a multi-billion-euro tax-evasion case against media group Dogan Media Holding, a vocal critic of the current government.

Even so, Ergemen Bagis, the cabinet minister responsible for Turkey's bid to join the EU, welcomed the report's largely positive findings.

"EU membership is one of the basic goals of our government," Bagis said. "We will continue our efforts with great determination and will work hard to get a more positive report next year."

No EU-wide support for Turkey

However, Bagis' optimism is increasingly meaningless, according to Professor Cengiz Aktar, head of European Union studies at Istanbul's Bachesehir University. Aktar said such reports from the EU executive were merely becoming an academic exercise. He said the results represented "total schizophrenia."

Armenian foreign minister Edouard Nalbandian and Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu

Armenia and Turkey's foreign ministers have just signed an agreement to normalize relations

"On the one hand, Turkey is now moving with this Kurdish opening and this opening towards Armenia," Aktar told Deutsche Welle. "It's all in line with EU membership and yet, the negotiations are completely stalled. It is like day and night."

Aktar said the rest of Europe was absent.

"The European Commission is there, but the European Union member states are not," he said. "They are not supporting Turkey in its endeavors."

Currently, various EU members are blocking 15 of the 35 chapters - areas where reforms may be necessary to bring a country in line with EU legislation - that Turkey must complete to achieve membership. With only a handful of chapters remaining, the entire process is threatening to grind to a halt.

Cyprus is a major sticking point

Many of the chapters are blocked because of an impasse over the divided Mediterranean island of Cyprus. Turkey has refused to open its ports and airports to the Greek Cypriots until the EU lifts its embargo against the Turkish side of the island. The EU accession report warned that Turkey must meet its obligations to all EU members - including Cyprus.

But Suat Kiniklioglu, spokesman for the Turkish parliamentary foreign affairs committee, said Turkey won't back down despite the EU requirements that it open direct trade with Cyprus.

"There is no way we are going to open the ports to Greek Cyprus," Kiniklioglu said.

The row over the ports could come to a head at the end of this year. Under a protocol signed by Turkey with the EU, it risks having the talks suspended unless it opens its ports to Cyprus by December.

Richard Howitt, a member of the European Parliament's committee on Turkey, said that Ankara was in danger of throwing away all the good work it had achieved with this year's report.

"I warn them that there isn't too much ambiguity, I would even argue no ambiguity in that legal text agreed by the council ministers," Howitt said. "So don't underestimate the threat of the talks being suspended altogether."

But such a threat does not carry the weight it once did. For with French President Nicholas Sarkozy, who opposes Turkey's bid to join the 27-nation bloc on principle, there is a growing belief both among the people and politicians that its bid is doomed to forever remain just that: a bid.

Author: Dorian Jones, Istanbul (sac)
Editor: Nancy Isenson

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