22nd May 2022

EU raises the pressure on Turkey

The Finnish EU presidency has raised the political stakes in the faltering EU-Turkey talks, giving Ankara just over two weeks to put them back on track and calling on the European Commission to concretely say what it will do if no solution is found.

In a speech on Monday (20 November), Finnish prime minister and current head of the EU Matti Vanhanen said that "time is running out."

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"If there is no agreement and Turkey does not honour its commitments, the EU will need to consider the implications for the accession process," he said.

"As for deciding on an appropriate EU response in those circumstances, we expect the Commission to come forward with recommendations during the first week of December."

Foreign ministers would then decide what to do with the issue at meeting on 11 December.

These remarks give a whole new urgency to the talks with many assuming they would drag on until mid-December forcing EU leaders to tackle the thorny topic and try and thrash out a deal.

However, Mr Vanhanen ruled out this scenario saying "I want to make one thing very clear. The Presidency has no intention of raising the Turkey issue at the December European Council. Decisions will be made before that."

"The real deadline is before the Commission presents its recommendations."

These remarks put the commission in the hot spot after it on 8 November published a report on Turkey's slow progress towards EU membership but refrained from coming out and saying talks should be stopped over Ankara's refusal to normalise relations with EU member Cyprus.

The EU has given Turkey until the end of the year to make good on a promise to extend a customs deal to Cyprus and free up its ports to Cypriot shipping.

But Ankara has dug its feet in saying it will not apply the agreement until the EU takes steps to end the economic isolation of Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus.

Mr Vanhanen's timetable also put pressure on his country's own diplomats who have been working behind the scenes to try and broker a deal which would allow direct trade with the northern part of Cyprus and open Turkish ports and airports to Cypriot vessels and planes.

Until now Finnish diplomats have failed in their efforts. But Mr Vanhanen remarked that as no one has come up with an alternative plan or said that the proposal is unacceptable, he still believed that a solution was possible.

Turkey talks tough

The tougher Finnish line follows calls from some member states to make it clear that things cannot simply continue as they are now if Turkey does not make some concessions.

Similarly, MEPs are expected to say in a report later this week that the commission should be clear about the consequences for Ankara of continuing its present stance towards Cyprus.

But reacting to the new ultimatum, Turkey remained defiant.

"Turkey's policy is very clear and determined," said Justice Minister Cemil Cicek, according to AFP.

"It is the EU authorities who have failed to fulfill their promises," he continued referring to EU promises about ending the economic isolation of the northern part of Cyprus.

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