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Finnish EU Presidency Unveils Remaining Challenges, Talks Turkey

by Ulrika Lomas, for, Brussels

22 November 2006

Speaking on Monday, Finland's Prime Minister and head of the EU Presidency, Matti Vanhanen outlined the challenges remaining to the Finnish Presidency in its last 41 days at the head of the European Union.

He told the COSAC (Conference of Community and European Affairs Committees of Parliaments of the European Union) meeting in Helsinki that:

"Innovation has been at the top of our agenda and I am very pleased with our achievements so far. I think that the outcome of the Lahti Summit in terms of innovation was very good - we need to focus on Intellectual Property Rights, Standardisation and Technology Platforms. The European Institute of Technology should go ahead."

"Earlier, we also achieved a result with the 7th Framework Program on Research. All these are crucial to innovation, which is the very foundation of Europe's competitiveness. The Competitiveness Council will finalise these strategic achievements in December."

Prime Minister Vanhanen went on to add that:

"The Presidency is a firm believer in enlargement. The enlargement process has been a great success and I look forward to welcoming Bulgaria and Romania as new members from the beginning of next year. Enlargement has contributed to European stability and economic vitality. This open enlargement policy needs to continue."

"We will have a general debate about enlargement at the December European Council. The Presidency looks forward to this debate and our aim is to consolidate a common understanding on the future of the enlargement process."

Finally, speaking with regard to the ongoing troubled accession negotiations with Turkey, he observed that:

"Starting accession negotiations with Turkey in October 2005 was a great achievement. Turkey deserves to be considered on its own merits, in the same way as any other candidate. However, its accession negotiations are now enmeshed with issues relating to Cyprus. Turkey has made commitments regarding the customs union which it has to honour."

"As the Presidency country, Finland aims to negotiate a solution that would benefit all parties and avert a crisis in Turkey's accession negotiations. We have discussed this package with the relevant partners. Our aim is to find a solution that would allow direct trade with the northern part of Cyprus and open Turkish ports and airports to Cypriot vessels and planes. Our package contains a limited number of elements. It is not about a comprehensive settlement to the Cypriot question. That is a task for the United Nations."

"All the parties involved have been willing to negotiate. No one has come up with an alternative solution or said that our proposal is unacceptable. We are all on the same page. Therefore the Presidency still believes that a solution is possible."

"We must not look back to the past, but forward to our future - to the reunification of Cyprus and to Turkey's membership of the European Union."

He concluded:

"But time is running out. If there is no agreement and Turkey does not honour its commitments, the EU will need to consider the implications for the accession process. This is not a good scenario and it would mean an uncertain future. As for deciding on an appropriate EU response in those circumstances, we expect the Commission to come forward with recommendations during the first week of December. Decisions would need to be made at the General Affairs and External Relations Council in three weeks' time."

"I want to make one thing very clear. The Presidency has no intention of raising the Turkey issue at the December European Council. Decisions will be made before that. The real deadline is before the Commission presents its recommendations. The December European Council will consider other issues, including the future of the Union's enlargement process."

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