25th Mar 2019

EU clinches deal on Turkey talks

EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS Updated 21:40 CET - EU foreign ministers have clinched a deal on the fate of Turkey's membership talks, agreeing to freeze eight chapters in Ankara's EU negotiating book.

"This means there will not be a Turkey summit," said foreign minister Erkki Tuomioja of Finland which holds the EU presidency, referring to the averted scenario of Turkey dominating EU leaders' meeting on Thursday and Friday.

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  • If confirmed, the deal would relieve EU leaders of a Turkey-dominated summit on Thursday (Photo: European Commission)

Member states agreed to suspend eight chapters of Turkey's 35-strong EU negotiations package, sanctioning Ankara for its continuing blockade on traffic from EU member state Cyprus - which is illegal under an EU-Turkey customs agreement.

"There were delegations which may have thought that this is too harsh, but there were also those who said this is too lenient," said Mr Tuomioja highlighting ministers' strong initial divisions over the issue.

The deal also includes a "review" mechanism in which the European Commission should scrutinise the ports situation in Turkey, without setting a concrete new deadline on the Turks to fully open up trade as initially demanded by Cyprus and Greece.

The conclusions agreed by ministers on Monday say "The council [EU leaders] will follow up and review progress made ... the council invites the commission to report on this in its forthcoming annual reports, in particular in 2007, 2008 and 2009, as appropriate."

"In my interpretation there is a clear reference to a review," said Cypriot foreign minister Yiorgos Lillikas despite the absence of a clear deadline, claiming that the issue will now be "in the council for three years."

Nicosia succeeded in keeping any reference to the UN role on the Cyprus problem out of the EU conclusions - the mentioning of which it had strongly opposed following Greek Cypriots' rejection of a UN plan to reunify the island in a referendum in 2004.

By means of a compromise, a separate "statement" on how to get the UN-led talks on Cyprus back on track is now set to be issued by the Finnish EU presidency under its own responsibility.

The agreement also includes a reference - to be included in later council conclusions in January - recalling the EU's commitment to ease the isolation of Turkish Cypriots in the North of the island, with one EU diplomat saying the reaffirmed commitment to help out the Turkish Cypriots would be "in return for the sanctions on Turkey."

This passage on North Cyprus however merely states that "work aiming at the adoption" of a commission-proposed scheme to open up EU trade to Turkish Cypriots "must resume without delay," not calling upon the Cypriot government in Nicosia to lift its current veto to the scheme.

Meanwhile, Dutch foreign minister Bernard Bot highlighted that Monday's agreement also includes a reminder - in the part of the conclusions on general EU enlargement - that accession talks are legally being conducted by all 25 EU member states - not by the European Commission.

This means that even if the EU now agrees to continue to talk with Ankara about the majority of the 35 negotiating chapters, every member state would still have the right to veto the opening or closing of any of them. "Every member state remains master of the negotiating process," he said.

"If you are coming to chapters which come close to references to the customs union, like regional co-operation or intellectual property, it might well be that the Netherlands says: I think this is something essential related to the customs union and I am very sorry but we cannot open this chapter," he stated.

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