29 September, 2005
The European Parliament backed Wednesday the opening of EU entry talks with Turkey next week, but insisted that Ankara recognise Cyprus and the genocide of Armenians during the negotiations.
The European Parliament has also postponed a vote to ratify Turkey's extended customs union with the EU with 311 votes in favour, 285 against and 63 abstentions. The delay was demanded by the European People's Party (EPP), the biggest party in the EU parliament, due to Ankara's refusal to let Cypriot ships and planes use its ports and airports, as required under the extended customs deal.
Following an intense debate, the Europarliament adopted a non-binding yet politically meaningful resolution endorsing the start of accession negotiations next Monday, while at the same time including a number of criticisms of Turkey's record on human rights, religious freedom and minorities.
The motion on Turkey joining the EU received the backing of 356 members of parliament while 181 voted against and 125 abstained.
The EU legislature demanded that Turkey recognise Cyprus soon and said negotiations could be suspended unless it granted access to Cypriot aircraft and shipping by next year. During the negotiations, which are open-ended and will not automatically lead to Turkish EU membership, Turkey should be kept under permanent scrutiny and pressure to ensure that it maintains ''the pace of the necessary reforms''.
They also demanded an undertaking that when the Turkish parliament ratifies the protocol extending the customs union to new EU member states, it would not attach a government declaration refusing to recognize Cyprus.
Cypriot Government Spokesman Kypros Chrysostomides said that developments in the European Parliament show that ''a concentrated pressure seems to be formed so that Turkey will comply with its obligations towards the EU including those towards the Cyprus Republic''.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn regretted the decision to delay ratification of the extended customs union, saying it would weaken
Brussels' hand with the Turks, but stressed it would have no impact on the start of negotiations.
Rehn warned Turkey it would have to amend its new penal code, adopted to meet EU criteria, if hardline judges were still able to prosecute the country's leading novelist for expressing his views on the killings of Armenians under Ottoman rule.
EU lawmakers demanded an undertaking that when the Turkish parliament ratifies a protocol extending the customs union to new EU member states, it will not attach a government declaration refusing to recognise Cyprus.
Rehn had warned parliament it would be scoring ''an own goal'' if it refused to approve the extended customs union.
Many lawmakers questioned the EU's ability to absorb Turkey financially and politically, especially after French and Dutch voters' rejected a draft EU constitution designed to streamline the bloc's creaking institutions to cope with enlargement.
Rehn said that on balance, Turkey had made sufficient progress on human rights to justify opening talks, saying the negotiations would give the EU crucial leverage over the direction of Turkish reforms.
Hans-Gert Poettering, leader of the conservative European People's Party, said if Turkey did not improve its human rights record within a period after starting talks, ''then we should be prepared to suspend the negotiations''.
The European Parliament also said on Wednesday that Turkey must recognise the killing of Armenians under Ottoman rule in 1915 as genocide
before it can join the EU. Ankara insists there was no genocide but the Parliament said it considered Turkish recognition of ''the Armenian genocide... to be a prerequisite for accession''.
Cyprus has been divided since 1974, when Turkish troops invaded and occupied the island's northern third.
Greek Eurodeputies addressing the Europarliament's plenary session - with the exception of LAOS (Popular Orthodox Rally) MEP George Karatzaferis - voiced their support for Turkey's EU accession and the beginning of negotiations.
However, they also qualified that support by noting the requirements Turkey must meet in order to join the Union.
Ruling New Democracy MEP George Dimitrakoupolos stressed Turkey's obligations in immediately recognising the Cyprus Republic; fully implementing its extended customs union agreement; respecting minority rights and particularly the rights of Greeks living in Istanbul, on Imvros and Tenedos; and respecting the rights of religious groups and the role of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.
Main opposition PASOK MEP Stavros Lambrinidis said that the beginning of negotiations does not mean that everything is negotiable.
He noted that neither is the Union's volition to see Turkey as an equal EU member state negotiable but neither is Turkey's obligations under the extended customs union agreement or its obligation to recognise the Cyprus Republic.
MEP Panagiotis Beglitis, also of PASOK, characterised Turkey's EU prospects as being 'positive', since it can contibute to democratisation of Turkish society, peace, stability and development for Turkey and for neighbouring countries.
He noted however, that support for Turkey's EU accession does not mean a 'carte blanche' for Turkey when it comes to adopting EU principles and laws.
Beglitis asked that the EU make clear what the consequences will be for Turkey's EU aspirations if the Turkish National Assembly ratifies the unilateral declaration whereby Turkey refuses to recognise Cyprus.
Finally, LAOS MEP Karatzaferis referred to Turkey's refusal to allow Pope Benedict XVI to visit the country.
"What other country in the world forbids the Pope from visiting it?" he asked.
He said that if Turkey withdraws its occupation forces from Cyprus then the Constitution of 1960 can go into effect, which calls for a Greek-Cypriot president and a Turkish Cypriot vice president. This, he said, would resolve the issue, allowing the north part of the island to share the same benefits as the southern part.
Source: Athens News Agency