EU set to approve Turkeyin membership talks
16 December 2004 , BRUSSELS/BERLIN - European Union leaders are expected to approve opening membership talks with Turkey at a summit on Thursday, but the historic decision will be tempered with warnings Ankara must meet tough standards and that negotiations will take over a decade. "The time to start negotiations with Turkey has come," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, adding that Ankara "must go the extra mile" and show its allegiance to core European values.
16 December 2004
BRUSSELS/BERLIN - European Union leaders are expected to approve opening membership talks with Turkey at a summit on Thursday, but the historic decision will be tempered with warnings Ankara must meet tough standards and that negotiations will take over a decade.
"The time to start negotiations with Turkey has come," said European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, adding that Ankara "must go the extra mile" and show its allegiance to core European values.
Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told the Berlin parliament on Thursday that a "privileged partnership" between the European Union and Turkey, as proposed by the German opposition, would be understood in Turkey as a rejection.
After debate, the Bundestag voted in favour of the European Union inviting Turkey to begin accession talks, with parties supporting Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder backing the resolution and the opposition against.
Turkey, which has been seeking to join the European Union for over 40 years, is expected to be told at the bloc's two-day summit that accession talks can begin in the second half of 2005.
But two key sticking points remain, said diplomats.
First, is Turkey's refusal to grant diplomatic recognition to EU member state Cyprus which despite its non-recognition by Ankara is still expected to give a green light to opening EU talks. The decision by EU leaders must be unanimous.
"What kind of message does it send when you do not recognise all the members of the club you want to join?" asked Barroso.
The Commission chief said Cyprus was a test of Turkey's willingness to "win over the hearts and minds of everyone in Europe."
EU leaders want Turkey to agree to extend a customs union pact with the bloc to all new EU states, including Cyprus, which joined the Union in May this year.
But Ankara, which only recognises self-styled Turkish northern Cyprus, has so far refused to do this.
Observers expect the EU to fudge the issue at the summit and issue a declaration saying they welcome "the intention" of Turkey to extend customs union.
Asked about calls by France for Turkey to recognise the killing of up to 1.5 million Christian Armenians under the Ottoman Empire in 1915 as a genocide, Barroso said the question would have to be up for frank discussion.
But he underlined this should take place at a later date and that no new political terms should be set prior to the start of EU accession negotiations. Turkey rejects the label of genocide with regard to the Armenians.
The second summit sticking point is what wording will be used to make clear to Ankara that negotiations will be open-ended and their successful outcome is not guaranteed.
A senior German official said full membership for Ankara was the EU goal and demands by a minority of member states, led by Austria, for setting an option of second class membership - a so-called "privileged partnership" - was not on the cards.
"That issue is dead," added an EU diplomat.
Austria as well as France and Denmark, remain nervous about admitting a large, poor and mainly Muslim state with 70 million people to what has until now been a mainly Christian club.
A German opinion poll this week showed just 15 percent back giving Turkey full EU membership. Turks, numbering 2.4 million, are Germany's biggest minority.
"Obviously there are problems with public opinion in some member states," admitted Barroso who stressed that final admission for Turkey would have to come from all 25 EU countries.
Given these concerns, EU leaders will tell Turkey improvements are needed to meet the 25-nation bloc's Copenhagen Criteria which include standards for human rights, minority protection and rule of law.
Ankara will also be told that further economic reforms are needed as well as moves to ensure the traditionally strong role of the military in the country is curbed.
Concern over large numbers of Turkish immigrants flooding into the EU has led the Dutch EU presidency to seek giving individual member states a long-term right to impose controls on the movement of people.
EU member states are not the only ones on edge. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned in recent days that Turkey will not accept membership at any cost.
Also on the EU summit agenda is a further enlargement issue: the bloc's leaders are expected to announce membership talks have been concluded with Bulgaria and Romania.
But the two countries, which failed to make the grade for the EU's 10 nation expansion last 1 May, will be told they still must make progress in a number of areas including justice and corruption and that planned accession in 2007 could be delayed until 2008.
The summit is likely to approve opening membership talks with Croatia in March or April next year conditional on Zagreb's cooperating with war crimes trials linked to the conflicts in former Yugoslavia.
Croatia, which could also join by 2008 or 2009, would be the second former Yugoslav state to become an EU member following Slovenia which joined last 1 May.
Subject: German news