BRUSSELS (Brussels Review)–Belgium–which currently holds the OSCE chair–restated Tuesday the need for Turkey to sign the Ankara protocol extending the EU’s customs union to all ten new member states–including Cyprus. "Resolving this lasting problem is a precondition for Turkish EU membership," Belgian Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht told Cypriot journalists.
"We have been of the opinion that the solution of the Cyprus problem should not necessarily be a precondition for opening accession negotiations–which we decided in October in Luxembourg–but it certainly is a precondition for membership," added De Gucht. "We hope that the problem is solved as soon as possible."
Following Dutch and French rejection of the proposed European constitution–a growing number of leading EU politicians argued that enlargement should be put on hold for Turkey.
Turkey–a Muslim country of 72 million people–has been trying to enter the European Union–and its predecessors–for over 40 years. Objections included the state of human rights–treatment of ethnic and religious minorities such as Armenia’s and Kurds–and Ankara’s refusal to recognize the Republic of Cyprus or the Armenian genocide. Negotiations will last at least ten years–with no guarantee of membership.
For its part–Turkey–too–is increasingly worried as to the future of enlargement. Ankara is under immense pressure to finally follow through with its commitmen’s to implement economic and political reforms and expand its customs union with the EU to include all ten new Member States–including Cyprus.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has many times suggested that Turkey will "soon" sign the protocol. Turkish officials–however–have only put pen to paper on an additional declaration to the Ankara Protocol stating that the document does not entail Turkish recognition of Cyprus.
"There should be an early ratification of the Protocol. It should work in practice. Not only legally–but also in practice," said De Gucht on his visit to Cyprus earlier this week.
Launching its plans for Austria’s Presidency of the EU–Chancellor Wolfgang Schssel warned that talks with Turkey will be hard. Austria held out to the last minute before agreeing to opening of EU negotiations with Turkey.