EU says 2009 is litmus test for accession talks .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none; color:#000000;} .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink:hover { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; color:#990000;} BRUSSELS - There is too much energy spent on internal tensions that could be used for reforms that are required for EU membership, says the EU enlargement commissioner, stressing that next year will be an important test for Turkey

Turkey must overcome internal divisions and return to long-delayed reforms early next year to show it is serious about wanting to join the European Union, the bloc's enlargement chief said in an interview.

"Next year will be an important litmus test for whether Turkey is serious about its EU accession perspective," EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn told Reuters. "After one or two years of domestic difficulties, we would expect Turkey now to shift into a new gear and seriously start to pursue the reforms again."

Internal dilemmas
Turkey began accession negotiations in 2005 but has made slow progress. Analysts say political distractions at home and a lack of appetite for further enlargement among EU states have pushed the EU agenda to the back burner in Turkey.

"I am aware of the dilemmas of the Turkish society in relation with the more secular and more religious lifestyles. It is essential that Turkish society find a modus vivendi," Rehn said. "There is too much energy used on internal tensions that could be used for pursuing legal and economic reforms that are required for EU membership."

Rehn said it was key for Turkey to reform its constitution and improve freedom of expression, and religious and linguistic rights, to be in line with EU standards. He said trade unions and business federations were blocking a trade union law essential to Turkey's EU accession process.

Rehn urged Turkey to get to business quickly. "The sooner the better, but at the latest after the March (local) elections, Turkey should totally resume the reforms again," he said.

Cyprus issue
Rehn also said next year must be the year of a comprehensive settlement for the divided island of Cyprus. He said all parties should work to create a "win-win situation" for the two communities.

"We are not in the business of pressure. We are in the business of facilitation," he said. "It's important for everybody, but Turkey is one of the key stakeholders ... they have supported the process, yes, but it is important that we all intensify our political support for a Cyprus settlement."

EU officials have said privately that progress in Cyprus reunification talks next year will be essential to move Turkey's slow-moving EU accession talks forward.

"We need ... to reunify the island so that Cyprus could be like a normal EU member state, in peace, united," Rehn said, adding that the EU was ready to bring as much legal and technical support as required by the two parties or the United Nations.

The fact that Greek Cyprus is a member of the EU has a wide-ranging impact on the reunification talks, as they mean bringing the north of the island into the 27-nation bloc, with its massive legislation and specific deals with nations such as Turkey. "It is a matter of paramount importance for the EU to see a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus," Rehn said.