- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

NICOSIA, Cyprus — The battle of wills over Turkey’s European Union membership application heightened yesterday after the government of Cyprus warned that the bloc’s credibility was at stake if it tolerates Ankara’s ban on Greek Cypriot air and sea traffic.

Foreign Minister George Lillikas termed Ankara’s refusal to open its harbors and airports to Greek Cypriot ships and planes a “provocation,” which the EU should not tolerate.

Despite a stinging EU report on Turkey’s progress on membership earlier this week, the Turkish government reaffirmed its policy of keeping Greek Cypriot traffic out unless the EU ends what Ankara describes as “the economic blockade” of the Turkish Cypriot northern part of the divided island.

The EU has given Turkey a month to liberalize trade links with all 10 countries that joined in 2004, including Cyprus. The latest report also criticized Turkey’s penal code, corruption, human rights record and the interference by the military in politics.

“We want Turkey to become a member of the European family, but we don’t want Turkey as it is today,” Mr. Lillikas said.

Turkey feels that admitting Greek Cypriot ships and planes would be tantamount to recognition of a government that Turkey rejects as not representing all of Cyprus. The northern part of the island, the self-styled Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, is recognized only by Turkey.

Olli Rehn, the EU’s expansion commissioner, warned that a one-month deadline given Turkey to change its policy “is likely to be the last opportunity to make real, serious progress for some years to come” on the Cyprus question, which emerged as a major obstacle in Turkey’s EU hopes.

But to a number of Turkish officials and commentators, the deadline amounted to an ultimatum prior to the EU’s planned summit in mid-December.

With Turkish polls showing a considerable drop in support for EU membership, some editorials wondered whether “Turkey should reject Europe before it is rejected by Europe.” The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has played down the degree of tension in the EU talks, but some officials admitted the precarious nature of the bargaining.

According to Egeman Bagis, a senior adviser to the prime minister, “We can be a prosperous, Western-looking democracy without the EU. Norway has done this, so why can’t we?”

Mehmet Dulger, chairman of the parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, said that if the EU talks collapse over Cyprus, “the West would lose a vital bridge with the Islamic world at a time when having this bridge is more important than ever.”

There has been a considerable shift in popular attitudes in the EU toward Turkey, a Muslim nation of 70 million.

After the latest EU report, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a skeptic on Turkish EU membership, said, “Turkey must meet its obligations by the end of the year. Otherwise the EU will have to draw the appropriate conclusions.”

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