Nobel laureate says EU stalling on Turkey

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The Independent Online

Nobel Peace laureate Martti Ahtisaari has accused the EU of stalling Turkey's membership negotiations, and said the EU's reputation as a reliable global partner was at stake.

Ahtisaari said the membership talks, which started in 2005, need to be reinvigorated to show the EU's commitment to the negotiations in the face of opposition from several member states.

Ahtisaari, a former Finnish president, is head of the Commission on Turkey, an independent group of former government leaders, foreign ministers and EU officials. Yesterday the commission issued its second report on Turkey's EU membership bid. After presenting it, Ahtisaari said that "Europe loses its credibility if we don't let this process go unhindered."

Turkey's bid has faced opposition from France, Germany, Cyprus and Greece.

Ahtisaari won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for decades of peace efforts, including a 2005 deal in Aceh, a province of Indonesia, that ended fighting between government forces and Free Aceh Movement rebels.

His report was critical of moves within Europe for trying to keep Turkey at arm's length after it had made a commitment in 2004 to open talks with Turkey.

Efforts to redirect relations to something less than membership talks, criticism from several member nations and moved that have stalled the technical talks "have all but derailed the process," the report said.

And Ahtisaari said that backtracking from its original commitment of potential membership would serve the EU badly in the world. "It has nothing to do with EU-Turkey relations but with EU s reputation in the world as a reliable partner," he said.

The political snub has also antagonized politicians in Turkey itself and slowed reform, the report said. And such a lack of reform was again fodder for those in the EU who want to keep Turkey out.

In Europe though, questions abound about allowing a Muslim nation into the largely Christian group at a time when the continent is already struggling to integrate Islamic minorities.

A key issue which also blocks progress stems from Turkey's 1974 occupation of northern Cyprus and the Mediterranean island's division into Turkey and Greek-speaking halves. The Greek-speaking half entered the EU in 2004 and has firm backing from Greece itself.

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