EU postpones Turkey's customs union confirmation

The European Parliament postponed its vote Wednesday on the ratification of Turkey's customs union with the European Union over Ankara's refusal to recognize Cyprus.

The Parliament voted 311-285 to postpone the vote at the request of conservative lawmakers. There were 65 abstentions in the assembly, which was split down the middle by the issue. The delay of the ballot will have no effect on the starting date for Turkey's accession negotiations with the EU, scheduled for Oct. 3, the AP says.

The Turkish government signed an agreement to widen its customs union with the EU to include Cyprus and nine other new EU members in July. But it issued a declaration stating its signature did not amount to recognition of the Cypriot government.

EU governments issued a counter-declaration last week warning that failure to recognize Cyprus could paralyze Turkey's entry talks with the EU.

Conservative lawmakers asked the European Commission and Britain, which currently holds the EU presidency, for guarantees that Turkey's parliament will not make its own ratification of the customs union conditional on Ankara not recognizing Cyprus.

"The Turkish government has accepted the customs union protocol but at the same time has refused to recognize Cyprus. It's logically and politically unacceptable," European People's Party chairman Hans-Gert Poettering said before asking the assembly to postpone the vote. "We want ... a statement from Turkey saying non-recognition of Cyprus will not be part of the ratification process (in the Turkish parliament). We haven't received such a statement."

Cyprus has been divided since a 1974 abortive coup by supporters of union with Greece prompted an invasion by Turkish troops. Turkey still occupies the north of the island in support of a breakaway Turkish-Cypriot government. Ankara does not recognize the Greek-Cypriot government in the south.

The EU expansion chief, Olli Rehn, made a last-minute appeal to the assembly not to postpone the vote and offered to ask Ankara about the details of the ratification process in the Turkish national assembly. But that wasn't enough to placate the conservatives.


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