Turkish doubts over EU delays

By Sarah Rainsford
BBC News, Istanbul
Tuesday, 4 October 2005

"We have agreement." They were the words Turkey had been waiting for.

When he emerged to utter them from his governing party headquarters, Foreign
Minister Abdullah Gul was almost bowled over by an enormous media scrum.

So many people here had waited so long - to hear if Turkey was finally on
the road to Europe.
And now it is.

At the airport just before he boarded his flight to the long-delayed
ceremony Luxembourg, Abdullah Gul said Turkey was stepping into a new era.
But only this morning the picture looked far gloomier.
Almost every newspaper coloured its front page EU-Blue on Monday. But the
headlines were stark.
"Vienna's Grudge!" said Sabah - its reference to the Ottoman siege of Vienna
suggesting Austria was deliberately making life difficult by insisting on
explicit mention of "privileged partnership" in the accession framework.

'Misery and frustration'

Ankara always said that was not up for discussion.

"Historic Day!" the broadsheet Milliyet trumpeted. "Will this be remembered
as the date talks started, or a black day that severely damaged the meeting
of civilisations?"

And Vatan reflected on the public mood - saying it was far removed from the
optimism of 17 December when the EU agreed Turkey had met the criteria to
start accession talks. Today, Vatan said, we see peoples' misery and their

That frustration is not hard to find on the streets of Istanbul.

"I do not want to join the EU, it's a christian club!" fumed Yavuz, a
newsagent in the heart of the European side of this city that spans two
continents. "Europe has been hypocritical since Ottoman times. They don't
have good intentions towards us. They only want our land. They will never
take us in."

Falling support

At the entrance to the nearby fish bazaar, fruit and veg trader Ali Osman
confessed to similar feelings.

"They don't want us! They keep playing games. They claim we were bad to the
Kurds, they talk about the Armenians. So it will be very hard to join. But
we'll see."

Polls here once suggested over 70% backing for EU membership. But the
difficulties on the path so far have cooled the passions of even the most
ardent fan of Europe. Support is still strong - over 60% - but it has been

Many people now talk of EU hypocrisy, of a union that breaks its promises.
Others believe racism is what has caused them so much trouble - a reluctance
to admit a mainly Muslim country into an elite Christian club.

"I don't feel good about the EU now," Ayshe admitted. "They will give us
such long dates to become members. They will make us come crawling and then
wring everything out of us."

Austria yields

But as Ankara announced a deal had finally been done, there was relief
nonetheless in Istanbul.

"I believe that as of now things will be good," said Neslihan, enjoying an
evening drink in a smoky beerhouse.

"A lot of people claim Europe pushes Turkey too hard but I don't believe
Turkey can be a fully democratic country unless that happens.''

"I didn't think it would happen, but now Iżm happy," said Deniz, in a nearby
doner kebab shop. "I thought Austria would never give up."

But Vienna's idea of a privileged partnership has been struck from Turkey's
EU road map for good.
So, as Mr Gul finally flew to Luxembourg, he said he did so with his head
held high.