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Greece opens EU door for old enemy Turkey

IN A major change of heart, Greece has dropped its objections of principle to its arch-rival Turkey becoming, one day, a full member of the European Union.

Yesterday's remarkable statement by the Greek Foreign Minister, George Papandreou, does not mean that Turkey is now on the way to joining the EU in the near future - far too many differences, notably over Cyprus and territorial claims in the Aegean, have to be cleared up first between the two East Mediterranean neighbours, as well as wider complaints about Turkey's human rights record. Turkey will also have to take its place among 11 other countries already seeking to join the EU.

But it does make it well-nigh certain that this December's EU summit in Helsinki, where enlargement of the union tops the agenda, will formally designate Turkey a candidate for membership. Had it not done so, Ankara's Foreign Minister, Ismail Cem, warned, Turkey would have abandoned its quest, turning its back on Europe.

Instead, relations are suddenly better than for several years, with Greece lifting its veto on various frozen EU programmes for Turkey, and agreeing to EU reconstruction aid after last month's earthquake, worth up to pounds 566m.

"Greece now believes it is in its own interest to see Turkey move closer to Europe," Mr Papandreou said after a meeting of EU Foreign Ministers at Saariselka in Finnish Lapland. "We will be working constructively to see if we can make this happen." The warmer ties in part reflect the close personal understanding between the new Greek Foreign Minister and Mr Cem. And then came Athens' swift and generous response to the earthquake. "They really were very good," Mr Cem said."They behaved as neighbours should."