3rd Mar 2024

Turkey and EU agree terms of membership talks

  • The final wording on Cyprus was reached after hours of intense discussion on Friday (Photo: European Commission)

The European Union and Turkey have agreed the terms of EU membership talks following hours of intense negotiation on Friday.

Following the discussion, Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan committed his country to extending a 1963 customs agreement to cover the ten new member states - including Cyprus.

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Signature of the agreement would mean acknowledging Cyprus as an EU member - something which to date has not been the case.

Ankara has said it will do this before EU talks begin - 3 October - but only if the agreement is adapted first.

In a statement leaders said they welcomed the declaration of Turkey that "the Turkish government confirms that it is ready to sign the Protocol on the adaption of the Ankara agreement prior to the actual start of negotations".

Dutch prime minister and current head of the EU, Jan-Peter Balkenende was careful to stress that this does not yet mean an official recognition of Cyprus by Turkey.

"That in itself is not a formal and legal recognition [of Cyprus]" said Mr Balkenende "but it is a step that can lead to progress".

The exact terms of the concession, which is extremely sensitive for Turkey, were intensely debated on Friday causing the meeting to break up into clusters of member states.

Small group agreements

The final agreement was eventually penned by the Dutch EU Presidency, Germany, the UK, Turkey and the Commission.

It is sigifiantly less strong than a draft circulated earlier on Friday calling on Turkey to initial the 1963 agreement during the summit.

This was rejected by Mr Erdogan, who argued that he could not sell such a definite concession at home.

A diplomat said that Cyprus "can probably live with this [compromise] under some pressure".

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 after Turkey invaded the island in reaction to a Greek-inspired coup in Nicosia - Turkey recognises only the Turkish northern part of the island.

Harsh conditions

Meanwhile, the conditions surrounding the accession talks for Ankara remain the strongest ever attached to an EU hopeful.

EU leaders agreed that "long transitions periods, specific arrangements or permanent safeguard clauses ... may be considered".

These could be applied to free movement of Turkish workers in the rest of the EU, to the EU's structural and agricultural policies - although, contrary to earlier drafts the text now stresses that the possibility to use the safeguards is permanent but that the safeguards cannot be used permanently.

These restrictions reflect the fears among several member states that there could be a flood of cheap Turkish labour to other EU countries and that the Union's expensive subsidising policies will be bankrupted by such a large and extremely poor country joining the EU.

Leaders also make clear that Turkey cannot join until at least 2014 and that the negotations are "an open-ended process, the outcome of which cannot be guaranteed beforehand".

A possibility to break off the talks has also been included in "case of a persistent breach...of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law".

A complaint by one third of member states, is enough to bring a decision on whether to break off the talks to the council table.

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