Turkey’s entry bid scores mixed points in EU debate

* EU deeply divided over Turkey’s membership prospects

* Croatia nears completion of EU accession preparations

* EU enlargement running out of steam

By Justyna Pawlak

BRUSSELS, Dec 14 (BestGrowthStock) – European Union governments sent
a mixed message of praise and criticism towards Turkey and its
EU accession effort on Tuesday, underlining persistent divisions
in the bloc over Ankara’s membership prospects.

During an annual debate on enlargement held by EU states in
Brussels, the bloc expressed “deep regret” about Turkey’s
failure to patch up relations with EU member Cyprus and pressed
Ankara to show improvement “without further delay”.

EU ministers welcomed, at the same time, Turkey’s recent
constitutional reforms as an “important” step towards improving
human rights and Ankara’s support to EU bodies tackling
migration.

“Negotiations (with Turkey) have reached a more demanding
stage,” ministers of foreign and European affairs said in a
statement after the meeting.

Addressing hopefuls in the western Balkans, EU ministers
gave assurances to Croatia that the end of its entry talks was
“within reach”, adding to hopes the former Yugoslav republic
could join in the next two to four years. But they made it clear
other aspiring countries face steep challenges.

Britain, Finland, Sweden and Italy had pushed the EU last
week to give stronger backing to Turkey’s entry efforts and
accelerate growth of the bloc, troubled by concerns among many
EU states over the cost at a time of Europe’s economic woes.

But the push ran into long-standing opposition from Cyprus,
with Nicosia pressing on Tuesday for a more critical stance to
reflect a dispute over the northern part of the divided
Mediterranean island which only Ankara recognises as a state.

France and Germany are also hesitant about Turkish entry.

TROUBLED PROCESS

EU governments face a dilemma in how to balance reluctance
among the bloc’s voters towards further enlargement — on the
rise since it admitted 12 countries in the last decade — with
concerns over keeping accession hopefuls engaged in the process.

Foreign ministers of Britain, Finland, Sweden and Italy
argued in an article in the International Herald Tribune that
faster accession would bolster Turkey’s democratic reforms and
help revive the EU’s economy:

“The doubts over admitting a large and self-confident nation
are as explicit now as they were when Britain once applied —
facing strong opposition from older members of the club.”

“Concerns are legitimate – but the counter-argument is
clear: New members can help Europe return to economic dynamism.”

However, talks between the European Commission and Turkey in
the past two months produced no progress in resolving the Cyprus
row. Turkey has also failed to start talks in a single new
policy area for six months, although Belgium’s foreign minister
Steven Vanackere said on Tuesday a new “chapter”, one of 35
needed to complete entry talks, could be opened in early 2011.

Cyprus wants Turkey to open up its ports and airports to
Greek Cypriot traffic. Turkey refuses to do so until the EU ends
the isolation of the north, which broke away in 1974 after a
Turkish invasion triggered by a Greek-inspired coup.

Turkey’s entry bid scores mixed points in EU debate