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European Union Closer to Accession Talks with Turkey


British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, center, speaks with the media after a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg, Monday June 13, 2005
The European Union has moved a step closer to accession talks with Turkey. EU foreign ministers have approved a pact adapting the EU customs union with Turkey, to the 10 new members, including Cyprus, an important political link.

The foreign ministers adopted the customs protocol, sending it to Turkey for signing. Formal negotiations on Turkey's joining the European Union are scheduled to begin in October.

Cyprus has been a difficult issue. The island was divided in 1974 when Turkey invaded after a Greek-Cypriot coup. Turkey does not recognize the Greek-Cypriot government, but the lesser step of trade normalization is a requirement for EU membership talks to start.

Diplomats say approval of the customs pact is a way of sending a signal to Turkey that the EU expansion process is going forward, despite the recent rejection of the EU constitution by France and the Netherlands.

Fraser Cameron, director of the European Policy Center in Brussels, says the EU can get by on its existing treaty for some time.

"The union will continue to function reasonably under the treaty if Nice [France], that is the legal basis," said Mr. Cameron. "It has proved sufficient for the enlargement to take place. It is not an ideal treaty. But the new constitution would not have come into force for another three years anyway. So there is no immediate problem."

There are some concerns about the pace of enlargement. EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said Europeans need time to reflect in the wake of the French and Dutch votes. She suggested that the speed of future enlargement might be reduced.

The constitution will allow the European Union to run more smoothly as it grows bigger.

Political analysts say Brussels wants to keep up the political momentum behind the referendum, even if it has to refocus its arguments to the European public about the need for the new constitution.