Turkey's boycott of Cyprus set to block EU progress
(BRUSSELS) - Turkey's decision to give the presidency of the European Union the cold shoulder while its nemesis Cyprus is in charge will do nothing to improve EU-Turkish ties and its troubled membership bid.
Ankara decided last year to boycott the EU presidency when Cyprus takes over from Denmark on July 1, due to a decades-old dispute over the Mediterranean island split between the Turkish north and the internationally-recognised south.
"They don't even want to talk to us," Cypriot Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Marcoullis told AFP, adding there was a "total impasse."
Turkey opened EU membership negotiations in 2005, but the talks stalled in June 2010.
Only one of 35 policy "chapters" that all EU aspirants must negotiate to join the bloc has been closed.
A further 18 chapters are blocked in large part because Turkey, which has occupied the northeast of the island since 1974, has refused to recognise the Republic of Cyprus.
"We see Turkey's EU accession hopes fade further by the day," said Jean-Dominique Giuliani, president of the Robert Schuman Foundation think tank.
Germany and France have opposed Turkey's bid to join the 27-nation bloc, favouring instead a "privileged partnership" between the two sides.
While Paris has a softer tone towards Ankara under Socialist President Francois Hollande, who was elected last month, the new French leader has skirted the questions of whether he supports or opposes Turkey's bid. He simply has said that Ankara would not join the EU during his five-year term.
Turkish leaders have complained for two years about the hostility to their country's candidacy within the EU.
For its part, Brussels has voiced concerns about some radical steps taken by the Islamic-rooted government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, including the growing number of arrests of lawmakers, intellectuals and journalists.
Turkey's decision to boycott the Cypriot presidency of the EU, despite a December appeal by EU leaders for Ankara to respect Nicosia's chairmanship, has done little to improve relations.
Since then, however, both sides appear to have taken pains to avoid fanning the flames.
"There is a feeling that everyone is striving to ensure that this has no repercussions," Giuliani said.
Turkish officials have indicated that the boycott will be limited to high-level meetings with Cypriot officials, while contacts would continue with the European Commission and EU president Herman Van Rompuy.
On the European side, the boycott is no longer mentioned in public while Nicosia wants to prevent its presidency from being affected by the move.
"We will do everything possible to have a normal presidency," said a Cypriot government source.
Despite the dispute, the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, launched a "positive agenda" towards Turkey in order to held Ankara achieve progress in reforms that have yet to be negotiated with Brussels.
The two sides have tried to fix another sour point: the influx of migrants using the porous Turkish-Greek border to enter the European Union.
The Europeans and Ankara have signed a readmission deal to return illegal immigrants to Turkey. In return the EU opens the way for Turks to get travel visas more easily.
But to seal the visa deal, Turkey must first do what it has refused to do for decades: Recognise Cyprus.
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