Blair pledges to champion Turkey's entry to EU

Nigel Morris
Tuesday 18 May 2004 00:00

Tony Blair pledged to champion Turkey's application for European Union membership yesterday and to help end the isolation of Northern Cyprus.

Tony Blair pledged to champion Turkey's application for European Union membership yesterday and to help end the isolation of Northern Cyprus.

Britain will now press for talks on Turkey's bid to begin later this year. The country would become the EU's first mainly Islamic member state.

The Prime Minister also made it clear that the search for a lasting settlement for Cyprus would not be deterred by the failure of both parts of the divided island to endorse a UN unification plan.

He called for action "as soon as possible" to relax the EU trade embargoes imposed on Turkish-controlled Northern Cyprus and for the ban on direct flights there from the UK to be lifted. "We must now act to end the isolation of Northern Cyprus," he said at a press conference at the end of talks with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Mr Blair gave fulsome support for the Turkish case to become an EU member. "Britain wants to see Turkey in the EU. Britain supports Turkey's membership of the EU. We have been proud to champion that over the past few years." He said he hoped and believed the country would satisfy conditions for membership when they were assessed later in the year. "On the basis of Turkey's compliance, there should be no obstacles to Turkey's membership of the EU," he said.

The Turkish Prime Minister had previously said it would be "wrong and unjust" for talks on Turkish membership to be delayed. The country has embarked on a series of economic and human rights reforms - including abolition of the death penalty - designed to meet membership criteria.

It has already satisfied one test by supporting the failed proposal to solve the problem of Cyprus.

The issue of Turkey's application is likely to dominate the EU summit in Brussels in December.

Turkey was told two years ago that it would have to wait until the end of 2004 at the earliest until negotiations could even begin. Some Turks suspect that enthusiasm for their country's membership has waned, with France and the Netherlands among nations most sceptical about the idea.

There is also a feeling in Ankara that the new east European members are more concerned at bringing other former communist countries into the EU. Romania and Bulgaria are due to join in 2007, with Croatia and Ukraine among other nations preparing to press their case.

Because of the complexity of bringing the Turkish economy into line with those of EU members, the earliest realistic date for full membership is thought to be about 2013.

At the end of the first annual UK-Turkish summit the two Prime Ministers signed an "action plan for a shared agenda". In a joint statement they said: "We condemn the indiscriminate terrorist outrages around the world, including last November's attacks in Istanbul and all forms of terrorism. We agree on the need for greater international co-operation to combat the new security challenges of terrorism, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and all forms of organised international crime." Their declaration was given added significance when four bombs exploded outside British-owned banks in Ankara and Istanbul shortly before Mr Blair arrived in Turkey.

Travelling with Mr Blair was Caroline Flint, a Home Office minister, who discussed the issues of drugs, people trafficking and terrorism with Turkish ministers.

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