Greek gifts mollify Turks

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The Independent Online
PROVING THAT even the darkest clouds have a silver lining, signs are growing that last month's Turkish earthquakemay bring a big improvement in the country's strained relations with the European Union, and above all with its arch-rival Greece.

Breaking a three-year logjam, Greece has signalled it will drop objections to a customs accord between the EU and Turkey and free $500m (pounds 310m) of European Investment Bank loans to Ankara. Support is also growing for Turkey to be formally designated as a candidate for EU membership at the European summit in Helsinki in December.

Robin Cook, Foreign Secretary, this week promised his Turkish counterpart, Ismail Cem, that Britain fully backed such a step - as do most other EU countries, but not Greece. The candidacy issue has soured relations since the 1997 EU summit in Luxembourg, when Turkey was outraged by its exclusion from the group of 11 countries who are in line for accession to the EU.

This included most of the ex-Communist states of East Europe and the Greek portion of Cyprus. Given continuing Greek objections, there is no guarantee Helsinki will produce a clear-cut go-ahead.

In an interview with The Independent, Mr Cem said that another rejection in Helsinki could prompt a humiliated Turkey to turn its back on Europe. "If things go wrong again, then I don't think we'll be trying again."