2nd Jun 2020

Turkey to dominate foreign ministers' agenda

Amid a full agenda of issues varying from Iran to bird flu, the question of Turkey is likely to dominate the foreign ministers’ gathering tomorrow and Friday (1 and 2 September).

The six-monthly informal meeting – or "Gymnich" meeting, after the German city where the first gathering of this kind was held – will take place at the Celtic Manor resort in Wales.

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Current international affairs as well as long-standing EU issues will be on the agenda.

Ministers will jet in on Thursday morning and lunch discussions will first focus on Russia and Iran.

Russia and Iran

Member states will assess Russia’s progress in implementing the so-called four Common Spaces, agreed in the framework of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement signed by the EU and Russia in 2003.

The four spaces of co-operation with Moscow involve the economy, security as well as education and culture - but tomorrow’s talks will primarily focus on justice and home affairs.

Particularly thorny issues are the facilitation of visas by both sides, as well as the re-admission by Moscow of Russian asylum seekers to the EU.

On Iran, EU ministers will face the deadlock that has emerged after the EU cancelled the talks with Teheran on its nuclear programme, following Teheran’s rejection of a trade-based proposal by the EU earlier this month.

Turkey and Cyprus

After Thursday’s lunch, the afternoon has been reserved for the candidate member states Turkey and Croatia.

The issue of Turkey has recently become contentious again, as member states such as France and Austria – as well as potentially Germany under a new conservative leadership after its upcoming elections – have signalled that they prefer a loose partnership with Ankara as opposed to full membership.

However, the British presidency, which is a strong proponent of Turkish membership, looks set to stick to earlier EU promises of fully-fledged membership for Ankara.

Accession talks with Ankara are scheduled to kick off on 3 October.

Another sensitive issue surrounding Turkish EU membership is Cyprus.

Ankara during the summer issued a statement saying it does not recognise EU member state Cyprus.

The declaration was attached to the extension of a customs agreement to cover the whole of the EU, including Cyprus – a formal requirement for Ankara to start accession talks with the EU.

While the Turkish stance on Cyprus has been strongly criticized, particularly by the French, no government alone looks likely to veto the opening of the accession talks with Ankara.

The Cypriot government itself does not demand full recognition by the Turks before the opening of the talks, but it has called for a "counter statement" to the Turkish declaration by the EU, as well as for tough guarantees that its ships and planes can enter Turkish territory.

Croatia, bird flu and Malta immigration

Meanwhile, Croatia is hoping that the expected opening of negotiations with Turkey will lead to a major breakthrough in its own talks with the EU.

Set to open talks in March, Croatia was rebuffed by the EU after member states agreed that Zagreb had not been co-operating enough with the UN tribunal for ex-Yugoslavia (ICTY) which is looking for the war crimes suspect, general Ante Gotovina.

However, last March it was the UK - currently holding the presidency - along with the Netherlands, that were very tough on Zagreb.

At the same time, countries neighbouring Croatia like Austria and Hungary, are pushing for a more flexible EU attitude to Zagreb - particularly if Brussels is conciliatory towards Ankara as well.

During the EU foreign ministers’ meeting on Thursday, UN chief prosecutor Carla del Ponte is expected to issue a statement on Zagreb’s progress in co-operating with the ICTY.

On Friday, a wide range of remaining topics is on the agenda. These vary from Iraq and the Middle East to the Western Balkans and from bird flu to the recent wave of illegal immigrants to Malta.

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