European Parliament chief pressures Turkey on Cyprus, reforms 12/03/2004

ANKARA (AFP) - The president of the European Parliament urged Turkey to recognize EU member Cyprus and stressed that Europe would watch for "clear evidence" that the country is committed to EU democracy norms.

In an address to the Turkish parliament, Josep Borrell warned Ankara to "be aware of the scale of the challenge" it would face if European Union (news - web sites) leaders gave it the go-ahead for accession talks later this month.

"The very process of opening negotiations between the 25 member states and Turkey implies recognition of Cyprus. It is not possible to negotiate with someone that you don't recognize," Borrel told the assembly.

"I would suggest both to you and to the authorities in Nicosia that if the opening of negotiations in itself means recognition of Cyprus by Turkey, then, perhaps, there may be less of a political problem for both governments," he added.

The EU wants Turkey to endorse the internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot administration of Cyprus, but Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul Thursday ruled out any official recognition until a settlement is found to the 30-year division of the island's Greek and Turkish communities.

Turkey is the only country to recognize the breakaway Turkish Cypriot government in the north of the Mediterranean island, where it maintains some 30,000 troops.

Borrell was speaking after talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and Assembly Speaker Bulent Arinc on Turkey's chances of winning a date to start membership talks at the EU's December 16-17 summit in Brussels.

He said the European Parliament was deeply divided over Turkey and that many of its members hesitated on whether it would be possible to adopt "a sound political position" on Ankara's membership bid before the Brussels summit.

"There are some moments when history hesitates and does not know which way to take. This is one of those moments," Borrell said.

"I'm sure the world will be very different depending on which way we will take in the next years to come.

"Not only Turkey, not only the European Union, the world as a whole will be different," he added.

The position of the European Parliament is not binding for EU leaders, but still carries a certain political weight.

Borrell praised the reforms Ankara had undertaken to catch up with EU democracy norms but warned: "We will need to see clear evidence of these new laws being fully implemented, and we are aware that this will take time."

He maintained that Turkey should not be denied a place in Europe because of the Muslim faith of its people.

"Turkey's people are mainly Muslims but Europe is not, and should never be, a Christian club," he said.

Erdogan and Arinc both told Borrell that Turkey expected to start membership talks in the first half of 2005.

Erdogan also said the negotiations should lead to the country's full membership to the bloc, rather than to any alternative status

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