GeriGündem EU's Rehn says 2009 turning point for Turkey entry talks, Cyprus deal
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EU's Rehn says 2009 turning point for Turkey entry talks, Cyprus deal

Turkey must overcome internal divisions and get back to long-delayed reforms early next year to show it is serious about wanting to join the EU, the bloc's enlargement chief told in an interview published Sunday. He added 2009 also must be the year of a comprehensive settlement for Cyprus.

"Next year will be an important litmus test of whether Turkey is serious about its EU accession perspective," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said in the interview with Reuters.


"After one or two years of domestic difficulties, we would expect Turkey now to put up a new gear and seriously start to pursue the reforms again," he said.


Turkey began accession negotiations in 2005 but has made slow progress, as the 27-member bloc has regularly opened only two chapters in Turkey's accession negotiations in each presidency term.


The European Union agreed Friday to open chapters on "Free movement of capital" and "Information society and media" in the negotiations. The two new chapters will bring the total number of chapters opened to 10 out of 35, with only one successfully closed.


Analysts say political distractions at home and a lack of appetite for further enlargement among EU states have pushed the EU agenda to the back burner in Turkey. Some EU nations, France in particular, also oppose the idea of Turkey joining the bloc.


"I am aware of the dilemmas of the Turkish society in relation with the more secular and more religious lifestyles. It is essential that Turkish society find a modus vivendi," Rehn said.


"There is too much energy used on internal tensions which could be used for pursuing legal and economic reforms that are required for EU membership," he added.


He said it was key for Turkey to reform its constitution and improve freedom of expression, and religious and linguistic rights, to be in line with EU standards.


He said trade unions and business federations were blocking a trade union law essential to Turkey's EU accession process.


Rehn urged Turkey to get to business quickly. "The sooner the better, but at the latest after the March (local) elections, Turkey should totally resume the reforms again," he said.



Rehn also told Reuters next year should also be the year of a settlement in Cyprus, urging all parties, and in particular Turkey, to step up efforts.


He said all parties should work to create a "win-win situation" for the two communities.


"We are not in the business of pressure. We are in the business of facilitation," he said.


"It's important for everybody, but Turkey is one of the key stakeholders ... they have supported the process, yes, but it is important that we all intensify our political support for a Cyprus settlement," Rehn added.


EU officials have said privately that progress in Cyprus reunification talks next year will be essential to move Turkey's slow-moving EU accession talks forward.


"I hope that next year will be the year of Cyprus and its comprehensive settlement," Rehn said.


"We reunify the island so that Cyprus could be like a normal EU member state, in peace, united," he said.


"Next year will be a crucial window of opportunity for that, that's why we will certainly invest all resources, all mental and personal resources that are needed to bring that support," he added.


Cyprus has been divided since 1964 when Turkish Cypriots were forced to withdraw into enclaves. Leaders of the two communities resumed talks in September after a four-year hiatus, marking the first major push for peace since the failure of the U.N. reunification plan in 2004.


Despite twelve face-to-face meetings, the two sides have made little tangible progress.


Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan urged the European Union Friday to put pressure on Greek Cypriots to work rapidly towards a deal on reunifying the island.


Rehn said that it was important that the talks continue to be driven by the leaders of the two parts of the island, but that the EU was ready to bring as much legal and technical support as required by the two parties or the United Nations.


"It is a matter of paramount importance for the EU to see a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus," Rehn said. 

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