Voice of America
Sept 30 2005

Standoff Threatens Start of Turkey's Membership Negotiations with EU
By Roger Wilkison
Brussels


European Union foreign ministers will hold emergency talks in
Luxembourg Sunday in a last-ditch attempt to break a deadlock over
the scheduled beginning of the bloc's membership negotiations with
Turkey a day later. The standoff has been caused by Austria's
insistence that the EU should only open talks if a clear alternative
to full membership for Turkey is inserted in the negotiating
framework.

Last December, all 25 EU members, including Austria, agreed that
Turkey's long-sought membership talks should begin on October 3.
They promised Turkey that the goal of the negotiations, which are
expected to take at least a decade, would be full membership in the
bloc and nothing else.

But that was before voters in France and the Netherlands turned down
the EU's draft constitution. Among the reasons they gave for doing
so was a concern about the EU's ability to absorb such a huge, mostly
poor and overwhelmingly Muslim country like Turkey.

Whereas most EU states think they should stick to their commitment to
begin talks with Turkey, given Ankara's fulfillment of EU demands
that it improve human rights, reform its judicial system and move
towards a market economy, most European citizens are either opposed
or indifferent to Turkish membership.

Austria is the only EU country to publicly oppose the start of talks
with Turkey. Vienna says the negotiations should only begin if
Turkey is offered an option to full membership that Austrian
diplomats describe as a "privileged partnership" with the bloc.

Turkey says it will not accept any goal for the negotiations other
than full membership and has warned the EU it will not show up for
Monday's talks unless that is made clear.

Fadi Hakura, a specialist on Turkey at London's Chatham House
research institute, says the Austrian government is trying to score
points with its Turco-skeptic voters and may also be trying to force
the EU to start negotiations with Croatia, whose membership it has
long supported.

"Austrian public opinion at the present time is hostile to Turkey's
EU accession hopes," said Fadi Hakura. "Also, Austria is trying to
use, it seems to me that it is trying to use [Turkish] accession as a
leverage to open accession talks with Croatia. And also, for
domestic political consumption, it has adopted somewhat of a tough
position."

British diplomats, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency,
are scrambling to work out a deal with the Austrians to soften their
opposition to Turkey. One possibility is a commitment for the EU to
begin membership talks with Croatia in the near future, under certain
conditions. The EU has suspended such talks with Croatia because of
what it says is Croatia's failure to cooperate with the war crimes
tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

Diplomats in Brussels say there are two other options to resolve the
impasse and arrive at the consensus the EU needs to proceed with
opening the talks with Turkey. One is to craft a declaration that
could mollify Austria's demands without alienating the Turks, a
difficult challenge at this point. And the second is for the other
24 EU members to stare Austria down and remind it that it is going
back on the commitment it made last December to begin negotiations
with Turkey.

Even if membership talks do begin on schedule, Turkey will have a
rough time in the years ahead. The European Parliament demanded this
week that Turkey recognize the killing of Armenians by the Ottoman
Empire during World War I as genocide. Cyprus threatens to block the
negotiations if Turkey does not soon recognize the island's
government. And France says it will hold a referendum on Turkish
entry into the EU once negotiations are concluded.

In Turkey, meanwhile, there is anger and frustration at what Turks
see as the EU's backpedaling on its pledge to admit their country.

Deniz Baykal, the head of the Republican Peoples' Party, the only
major opposition group in parliament, reflects Turkish public opinion
when he says the EU keeps moving the goal posts.

"We have taken important reforms during the last several years," Mr.
Baykal said. "We changed our constitution. We changed our
legislation. We changed our practices...Now, the European Union is
saying that Turkey's being a member of Europe does not depend on
Turkey's performance, but [on] our capability of having Turkey as a
big country in Europe. They were asking Turkey to meet certain
criteria. Now they begin to say that they themselves are not ready
to accept Turkey."

Turkish diplomats in Brussels say the combination of opposition among
Europeans to Turkey's membership and EU demands on such issues as
Kurdish rights, Cyprus and the killing of Armenians have inflamed
deep-seated Turkish nationalism. They say that most Turks still
support EU membership, but that the percentage is steadily
decreasing. And they say that, as Turkey and the EU get down to the
nitty-gritty of negotiations, that support could fall even further.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress