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Two more chapters for Turkey’s European Union membership where opened Friday, bringing the total opened chapter count to ten out of thirty-five. Foreign Minister Ali Babacan welcomes the opening of the two policy chapters, however the ongoing trouble in relations with Cyprus still remains the biggest hurdle to Turkish accession


Agence France-Presse

Turkey moved a fraction closer to Europea Union membership Friday, with the opening of talks on two more of the 35 policy areas that all candidate states must successfully negotiate.

However, no one is expecting Turkey to become a member of the European Union any time soon.

Ankara has not normalised relations with EU member Cyprus, while France, which holds the EU presidency till the end of the month, leads the lobby that believes the largely Muslim nation should not be welcomed into the club.

Nonetheless, Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan welcomed the opening of the two policy chapters Ğ on the "free movement of capital" and "information society and media" Ğ adding that "we believe our accession process will be further advanced during the Czech Presidency," in the first half of next year.

"Two new chapters have been opened," said French minister for Europe, Bruno Le Maire, after talks with the Turkish minister.

He hailed the move as a "demonstration of the great success of six months of common efforts under the French presidency ... primarily due to Turkey."

French opposition

That brings the number of policy chapters opened for negotiations up to 10, of the 35 in total since membership talks began in October 2005.

The Czech Republic, which will assume the EU Presidency from France next month, hopes to open two more chapters on Turkey in the first half of next year, Czech ambassador to the EU Milena Vicenova said this week.

While some EU nations, France in particular, oppose the idea of Turkey joining the bloc, the decision to open the two new policy chapters was taken Thursday without the usual polemic that accompanies such discussions.

However, the tensions on the issue look set to reappear next year, when the 27 member states review relations between Turkey and EU member Cyprus, which Ankara does not recognise.

In December 2006, the EU decided to freeze eight policy chapters due to Ankara's refusal to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic.

Cyprus biggest hurdle

Last week, EU foreign ministers voiced regret that Turkey had not made progress in normalising relations with Cyprus and called for that to happen as a matter of urgency.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan urged the EU on Friday to put pressure on Greek Cypriot authorities to work rapidly towards a deal on reunifying the island.

Window of opportunity

"The European Union has a very heavy responsibility to assume," the Turkish minister told reporters after meeting with EU officials in Brussels.

"That is to say that the Greek part of the island, which is today a part of the EU, must be strongly encouraged to move towards a durable and complete solution," he added.

Cyprus has been divided since 1974 when Turkey intervened in the island’s northern third in response to an Athens-engineered Greek Cypriot coup aimed at uniting the Mediterranean island with Greece. Fresh UN-sponsored reunification talks began in September between Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat and Cyprus President Demetris Christofias, a Greek Cypriot, but progress has been sluggish, with rival leaders bogged down on governance and power-sharing issues.

The division remains a major obstacle for Turkey's bid to become a member of the EU, which Cyprus joined in 2004.

Ankara refuses to endorse the island's internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot government and instead recognises the Turkish Cypriot state in the north.

"If we leave the two leaders all alone face-to-face they will continue their regular meetings but with no timetable, no deadlines, and it is difficult to envisage an agreement and a durable and complete solution," said Babacan.

He warned that "the window of opportunity will not be open indefinitely." Babacan also recalled a 2004 initiative to reunify the island, when the Turkish Cypriots backed the move in a referendum while the Greek Cypriots, in the south of the island, rejected it.