EU-Turkey ties cooling further
Ties between the EU and Turkey appear to be cooling further after last December's partial freeze of Turkish membership talks, with Ankara cancelling a key meeting with the EU and with a Turkish-Cypriot row mounting over oil exploration rights.
German and Turkish media report that Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gul has been unwilling to visit Brussels or other EU capitals ever since the bloc last December suspended eight chapters of Turkey's 35-chapter EU membership negotiations book, as a sanction for Ankara's continued refusal to allow trade from EU member state Cyprus.
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Mr Gul this week cancelled a March meeting of the so-called EU-Turkey Association Council, a formal body where Ankara, the European Commission and EU governments can take joint decisions, with the commission confirming to German daily Handelsblatt that the meeting will now be shifted to a later date, probably June.
The move by Ankara is seen as political, with Turkish officials telling Handelsblatt that Ankara currently has "other priorities" after the EU's December decision.
This year's Turkish elections - for the presidency in April and for the parliament in November - are also seen as playing a role in Ankara's attitude, with the popularity of the EU in Turkey last year suffering severe setbacks following the row with Brussels over Cyprus.
Germany, the current presidency of the EU, has said it wants to open two chapters that were not suspended by the EU in December - but Cyprus looks unwilling to agree to the idea.
Cypriot diplomats immediately after the December deal said that Nicosia's consent to opening negotiating chapters would be made dependent on Turkey's stance on other issues - such as Ankara's blocking of Cypriot participation in strategic EU-NATO discussions.
Moving ahead with the talks "requires the consensus of all the member states, which is difficult to guarantee,'' Turkey's chief negotiator with the EU Ali Babacan said on Thursday (15 February) according to Bloomberg.
He added that "Greek Cypriots are quite creative in finding new areas of dispute'' and reap "continued benefits as long as the dispute continues."
"I wouldn't be surprised if there are more new areas of dispute created by the Greek Cypriot side.''
Cyprus is currently embroiled in a new spat with Turkey over oil and gas exploration rights in the Mediterranean, for which Nicosia recently issued a tender.
Ankara says Turkish Cypriots in the north of the divided island should have a say in the exploration rights and this week warned Nicosia to cancel the tender.
A Turkish government spokesman said that "continuation of the tender process will adversely affect peace and stability on the island of Cyprus," according to the BBC.