International Herald Tribune, France
Dec 1 2006

Belgium says Turkey should be given 'honest chance' to continue
membership talks

The Associated Press Published: December 1, 2006


BRUSSELS, Belgium: In another sign of the disagreements over Turkey's
drive to join the EU, Belgium said Friday that the predominantly
Muslim country should be given an "honest chance" to continue
membership negotiations.

A Dec. 14-15 summit of EU government leaders will decide whether to
act on a recommendation by the EU's executive arm to partially
suspend the negotiations, which began a year ago.

Countries like Germany, France, Greece and Cyprus are seeking tough
measures against Ankara until it opens its ports to Greek Cypriot
ships and planes. Others, like Britain, Spain and Sweden want to make
sure a potential important ally like Turkey is not excluded.

"To refuse Turkey an honest chance would be a historical error,"
Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht wrote in an op-ed piece in De
Morgen newspaper. Yet he criticized recent developments in Turkey.

"Trials against intellectuals for insulting the Turkish identity,
discussions about the Armenian genocide, quarrels about relations
with Cyprus," he said. "Old symbols are coming to the fore."

De Gucht said, however, that the EU had to look beyond the current
differences.

"Enlargement is a good thing and Turkey deserves the benefit of the
doubt," he said.

On Wednesday, divisions among EU nations were laid bare after the
European Commission recommended partially halting membership talks
because Turkey refuses to extend a customs union with the EU to
include Cyprus and nine other countries that joined the bloc in 2004.

"It is of major importance that Turkey remains a stable, secular
democracy," De Gucht said.

"Joining the Western club, which is the European Union, would send a
very strong signal to the world that the 'clash of civilizations' is
not inevitable."

If the talks are partially frozen, it would significantly slow
Turkey's EU membership talks, which already were expected to last at
least a decade. The EU has always stressed they offer no guarantee of
membership.

"Negotiating with such a strong neighbor can only be a tough,
time-consuming process," said De Gucht.