WHETHER incidental or intentional, the timing of the European Commission's report yesterday on progress with Turkey's application for membership of the European Union was distinctly unhelpful. At more or less the same moment that Pope Benedict was assuring the Turkish prime minister that he had dropped his opposition to Turkey's EU membership, the Brussels commisioner for EU enlargement, Olli Rehn, announced that eight of the 35 negotiating “chapters” on Turkey's membership had been suspended. It is, of course, true that the Pope should never have offered his opinion on this matter in the first place but, nonetheless, he has shown by his change of mind that he knows he is not politically infallible.

Most of the eight suspended chapters are related to Turkey's unwillingness to recognise Cyprus as an established member of the EU. Ankara has refused to implement an earlier agreement to open its ports and airports to Cypriot traffic and in doing so extend its customs union to all EU countries. The disputes between Turkey and Greece, and the Greek-dominated part of Cyprus which has EU membership, are deep and difficult and both sides need to be readier to resolve them than they have so far been willing to do. However, yesterday's reaction of the Turkish government, describing the EU's decision as “unacceptable” was unhelpful. The issue will come before the EU summit in Brussels in mid-December when divisions about future negotiations with Turkey will almost certainly be on show.