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Germany's election doesn't bode well for Turkey's EU hopes

By Eurasia Group analysts Irmak Bademli and Wolfango Piccoli

Turkey's ailing bid for EU membership will face greater difficulties following the win of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Free Democratic Party (FDP) in Germany's recent elections. The FDP's replacement of the pro-Turkey Social Democratic Party (SPD) will allow Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has long favored a "privileged partnership" rather than full membership for Turkey, to become more vocal in her opposition to Ankara's EU entry. Meanwhile, Cyprus remains a major obstacle in Turkey's path to EU membership.

The SPD's exit from power was a major loss for Ankara, which now faces skeptical governments in both Paris and Berlin. The party had been instrumental in tempering Chancellor Merkel's anti-Ankara views during her first term in office from 2005 to 2009. While the FDP's victory does not rule out Turkish membership, leading figures in the party recently said that they do not think Turkey is ready for EU membership due to "major deficits" in Ankara's efforts to meet the EU's criteria.

In the near term, however, the changeover in Germany will not bring a total breakdown in Turkey-EU talks. The ongoing negotiations over Cyprus are entering a delicate stage and Merkel, like other EU leaders, wants to see them succeed.

At the end of 2006, Turkey's refusal to extend its customs union agreement with the EU to Cyprus led the EU to freeze talks over 8 of the 35 policy chapters that each candidate country has to negotiate to become eligible for membership. This fall, the EU will review Turkey's progress in its accession negotiations, in particular focusing on the Cyprus issue. If Turkey has not complied with its customs union obligations by the time the EU carries out its review, some anti-Turkey member states could put pressure on the EU to take sterner action. The European Commission, for its part, is expected to bury its review of the freeze within its larger annual report on Turkey's progress, which will be issued on 14 October.

The EU's options to deal with noncompliance are not clearly spelled out, but they could range from a mild rebuke to further sanctions. A full-suspension of talks, however, is not on the table this year -- despite calls from the Greek Cypriots to punish Turkey if it continues to ignore its obligations. Little progress has been made in the Cyprus negotiations, which began in September 2008, and the failure to reach a settlement by early 2010 could bring a total breakdown in Turkey-EU talks.

While it is hard to trace a sense of urgency on the Greek Cypriot side, the April 2010 presidential elections in the self-declared Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) are generally regarded as a deadline for the reunification talks. Without a settlement, the present incumbent Mehmet Ali Talat may lose his seat in April 2010 and be replaced by a president less supportive of a settlement. This development will further complicate the already difficult negotiations.

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