Greeks block Turkish EU role

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The Independent Online
The European Union hopes to agree a customs union with Turkey next year, despite Greek objections, EU foreign ministers said yesterday.

"It's very much a shared interest," said Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, as the ministers met in Brussels. A far-reaching trade pact has already been agreed in principle, but has been blocked because of Greece. Last night, the Turkish Foreign Minister was due to meet EU colleagues to discuss the matter, but continuing resistance from Greece yesterday meant the meeting could only review progress.

Fourteen EU members - all bar Greece - issued a statement yesterday. Greece insists that before there can be a customs union, there must be movement in negotiations over Cyprus, the north of which has been illegally occupied by Turkish troops since 1974,and a date for entry to the EU for Cyprus. Greece is also blocking EU aid to Turkey.

The agreement would open up trade between Turkey and the EU, giving it a status close to that of Norway, which, though not a member of the EU, has free trade with it. The blockage may be removed when the EU holds a meeting with the Cypriot government early next year, officials said.

Cyprus's entry depends upon progress in negotiations between the two ethnic communities that share the island. Turkey has also said it wants to join the EU.

Yesterday, other EU foreign ministers were optimistic that the impasse could be resolved in the next few months. "I am fairly confident," said Mr Hurd, after meeting the Turkish Foreign Minister. Turkey was a vital partner for Europe, he said, and its role in Cyprus, the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Caucasus made it "indispensable".

However, Mr Hurd admitted there was "concern" about human rights in Turkey. The European Parliament has also threatened to hold up the customs union because of Turkish treatment of its Kurdish minority and, in particular, jail sentences on Kurdish parliamentarians.

Mr Hurd said he understood that Turkey faced a threat from Kurdish terrorists, but that did not justify a suppression of human rights. "The best way of tackling that is within the rule of law."