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Friday, 15 November, 2002, 12:51 GMT
EU on mission impossible
Javier Solana and Recep Tayyip Erdogan
The EU must keep on good terms with Turkey

Who would be a Danish politician in these frantic last weeks of the year? Less than a month to go till the European Union's Copenhagen summit, and what a lot there remains to do.

At the start of the Danish presidency in July, the workload for the coming six months seemed impossible, and to many people it still does.

The Danes set out with the following little agenda:

  • complete negotiations with 10 candidate countries

  • finalise the financial arrangements with them

  • sort out the Cyprus dispute

  • reach agreement on the Rapid Reaction Force

  • come to an arrangement with Russia over Kaliningrad

  • and produce a new Common Fisheries Agreement.

Even for the cool, efficient Danish Prime Minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, it was certainly a challenge.

This week saw the Kaliningrad obstacle overcome.


Cyprus retains the potential to knock the entire enlargement process off course

Russian President Vladimir Putin accepted that citizens in the Russian enclave will need to have special travel documents issued to them once the countries that lie between it and Russia proper - Poland and Lithuania - become members of the EU.

The reformed fisheries policy is hotly disputed by those countries that stand to lose not only huge subsidies, but also thousands of jobs.

The chances of success here by year's end are not great.

Buttering up Turkey

Negotiations for the 10 applicants are on course, following agreement reached in Brussels last month on farm subsidies.

But the whole vision could still crumble before our eyes, if no deal is found on Cyprus.

That in turn is tied up in a web of other issues, all of which, one way or the other, hinge upon keeping on extra-good terms with Turkey.

Demonstrators at a march organised by the Greek Communist Party in Thessaloniki against UN proposals for a reunification deal over Cyprus
Some Greeks oppose the UN's Cyprus plan

The best way to butter up Turkey would be to offer it a firm date for the start of its own accession negotiations with the EU.

That - or at least a date when a firm date would be set - might, just, come at the Copenhagen summit, if only as a bribe, to smooth the way on Cyprus and the Rapid Reaction Force.

The latter - the centrepiece of the EU's emerging common security policy - will require EU access to Nato assets.

Turkey, as a Nato member, could veto the whole thing, thereby scuppering the EU's already delayed plans for peacekeeping operations.

Cyprus snag

Cyprus retains the potential to knock the entire enlargement process off course.

This week, the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan produced a blueprint aimed at finally reuniting the divided island after 28 years.


Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is keen to boost his country's chances of joining the EU one day and is determined to appear moderate and conciliatory

Its leaders, the Turkish Cypriot from the north, Rauf Denktash, and the Greek Cypriot President, Glafcos Clerides, have been holding negotiations for 11 months, but seemed far apart until Mr Annan's intervention.

Initial reactions in Cyprus and Turkey have been positive. But the stakes could scarcely be higher.

Turkey has in the past threatened to annex the northern part of Cyprus if only the Greek side is admitted to the EU, while Greece has threatened to veto EU enlargement if the southern part's accession is delayed because of lack of agreement with the Turks.

Either of those scenarios would not just delay enlargement: they would bring south-eastern Europe to the brink of disaster.

So far, optimism prevails. The leader of the Turkish Justice and Development (AK) Party which recently won the country's general election, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is keen to boost his country's chances of joining the EU one day and is determined to appear moderate and conciliatory.

He visits Northern Cyprus on Saturday and is embarking on a tour of European capitals, including Athens, keen to impress.

Propitious times

Perhaps the alignment of the stars is more propitious now than it has ever been.

The two elderly gentlemen in charge of Greek and Turkish Cyprus have not much time left to go down in history as having reunited the island.

Turkey is anxious to please. Greece is supporting its age-old enemy's application to join the EU.

And above all, there is a deadline to concentrate minds - the 12-13 December summit in Copenhagen.

It will be an enormous feat of diplomacy, but it might just happen.


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