Finland 'regrets' block on Turkish bid
Finland regrets the political blockade that has been applied to Turkey for Ankara's European Union-accession process, Finland's foreign minister has said. Erkki Tuomioja said they thought Turkey's negotiations should proceed normally, "opening and closing chapters as the objective negotiation situation evolves." "There will be some chapters opened," he told the Hurriyet Daily News April 12 alongside the Second Istanbul Conference on Mediation. Turkey and Finland launched the mediation initiative in 2010. It then became a United Nations initiative after a resolution was approved at the U.N. General Assembly in 2011. Finland has always supported the opening of the other chapters that have overshadowed Turkey's accession talks, the minister said. "We regret this political blockade, but I think we see some changes and there is a possibility of getting a more normal negotiation process." When Finland was holding the rotating EU presidency in the second half of 2006, Tuomioja had a prominent role as the spokesman of EU foreign policy. He also has been conducting intensive work on the Cyprus issue to find a solution that will enable the uninterrupted continuation of Turkey's accession negotiations and improve the situation of both communities on the island. When Tuomioja was asked whether Turkey's EU membership would be a dream until the Cyprus issue was solved, he emphasized that it was more or less true, "because, if somebody is in the EU, they have to have normal relations with all others in the bloc. That is the basic idea of European integration." All parties involved in the issue need to support the work of the U.N., he said. "We are trying to solve the Cyprus issue; we are trying to solve some items which will help communities working together on the island, where the EU clearly has an interest and a mandate to do so. But the actual issue of Cyprus is a U.N. issue." Tuomioja said he was hopeful. "After the last elections in Greek Cyprus there has actually been a wind of opportunity except for the financial debt crisis, which is now overhanging." He also noted that he found it understandable that at least for the short term Cyprus would be unable to act until they solve its economic problems. "When this is over – certainly we are not talking about years, we are talking about months if not weeks – we should start seriously to get these parts together again," he said. Nothing can immediately happen regarding peace talks on the Cyprus issue, Tuomioja said, adding that Greek Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades would take this up as soon as possible. Touching on the Islamophobia issue, the foreign minister said racism and xenophobia were also on the rise across Europe. "This trend has been growing because they were also fueled by the economic crisis. Even neo-Nazi parties are on the rise in Europe," he said. Tuomioja said Finland had been hosting the oldest Muslim community in the EU, the Tatars, who have been there for 150 years almost. "They are absolutely integrated and they have never experienced any problems. Against the new generation of immigrants coming from other countries some people reacted with Islamophobia. But these people made very good communication with the Tatars, and they don't even think they are Muslim, so one shouldn't generalize." Tuomioja said they welcomed Turkey's peace process initiative very much. "We know that there is a lot of work to be done, but this is a start. It has to be permanent; there have to be some changes in Turkish legislation. But I understand that all of these are on the table, and they are being discussed openly." The jailed leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), Abdullah Ocalan, called for arms to be laid down and the end of the armed struggle in a letter during Nevruz celebrations in the southeastern province of Diyarbakir in a landmark move to resolve the Kurdish issue that had started some 30 years ago and cost 40,000 lives. Finnish Ambassador to Ankara Nina Vaskunlahti, who is accompanying Tuomioja on his Istanbul visit, hinted that Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan would pay a visit to Finland in mid-May with a delegation of businessmen to discuss possible cooperation with Helsinki on economic and trade issues.