Denmark joins Austria and France in seeking an alternative to full membership for Turkey, while German chancellor says sole aim of talks is full membership
Critics raise voice
Two weeks before a summit of European Union leaders to decide whether to open membership talks with long-time candidate Turkey, the camp of critics was growing stronger as France and Austria, which seek an alternative to full membership, won backing from Denmark.
Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, who originally opposed Turkish accession to the EU, said he backed the French position of spelling out an alternative to full membership when the bloc’s leaders meet on Dec. 17 to decide on Turkey’s wish to get the talks started.
"We could support such a view," Rasmussen was quoted as saying by the daily Politiken and added, “Everybody is of course interested in the idea that Turkey be linked to the EU in one way or another."
A spokesman for Rasmussen's office confirmed he had made the comments after talks in The Hague on Wednesday with Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency.
Member countries are trying to formulate their position on whether, when and how to start talks with Turkey as the Dec. 17 summit nears. Speaking after a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said the sole aim of the negotiations was membership and added he “hoped” France also though along the same lines.
On Wednesday, ambassadors of the EU states set out their countries’ positions at a meeting to discuss the final statement that would emerge from the summit. They held discussions on the basis of a draft statement prepared by the Dutch presidency of the EU, which was circulated this week among member countries.
Representatives of France and Austria sought alternatives to full membership at the meeting, pushing hard for a “third way” at the restricted session, according to Reuters, although they found little support for their position. But the historic decision on talks requires unanimity.
Greek Cyprus, on the other hand, insists on recognition before any decision to start accession talks can be made.
The Dutch draft called for de facto recognition of Greek Cyprus, proposed giving one-third of EU members the power to seek a suspension of the talks and raising the prospect of a permanent emergency brake on labor migration from Turkey.
Conservatives in France and Germany are pushing for a “privileged partnership” that would fall short of membership, an idea categorically dismissed by Turkey. Ankara has also made it clear there would be no steps towards recognition of the Greek Cypriot administration before a settlement is found on the island.
"Our view on this issue is very clear. There is still no settlement on Cyprus. While there is no settlement there is no recognition," Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül said.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan also said Turkey would not take any action on the Cyprus issue before the EU summit, but signaled he has not ruled out recognition after entry talks begin.
"We have our expectations from Dec. 17, we will not take any steps before that. After [that] we'll talk, we'll negotiate. Let's see what happens on Dec. 17, then we'll take the necessary steps," he said in an interview with private NTV news channel.
"The decision taken on Dec. 17 could change many things in Turkey, we need to understand this. There should be surprises. Nobody should try to push Turkey into a corner," he said.
Turkish leaders have confidently said that Ankara has fulfilled the necessary criteria and press the EU to start the talks.
But given the concerns of Turkish membership in the EU public, warned EU officials, new conditions might be on the way.
Asked by the Dutch evening newspaper NRC Handelsblad whether it was conceivable that the leaders would impose more conditions, Bernard Bot, the Dutch foreign minister, said: "That we shall have to see. The Turks will say, 'That is not fair because we meet all the set criteria, so what more do you want?' But there is also the political reality in Europe and we have to keep an eye open to that."
Some EU governments, backed by a significant part of EU public opinion, are worried by the prospect of a Muslim nation of 70 million entering the union, citing cultural and religious difference, as well as job worries.
Strategy under discussion
Faced by the EU pressure, Ankara is discussing what strategy to pursue in the critical run-up to the Dec. 17 summit.
Gül announced that a meeting to be headed by President Ahmet Necdet Sezer was to take place on Dec. 7 and consultations with Turkish Cypriot leaders were to take place in the next few days.
The Dutch presidency agreed to produce a new draft by Monday for discussion by ambassadors next Wednesday, but the final details such as the date for starting talks would only be set at the summit.
At the Wednesday meeting, Germany favored adopting the European Commission's Oct. 6 recommendation to open talks with Turkey "without delay" unchanged. The Commission’s EU executive said talks would be an "open-ended process whose outcome cannot be guaranteed beforehand".
Some countries, including Britain and some new East European members, insisted there should be no discrimination against Turkey and the only goal of negotiations was Turkish accession.
Erdoğan rules out Cyprus step before Dec. 17
The prime minister criticizes use of ‘ecumenical’ title for Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartolomeos and says the patriarchate’s status is set out in the Lausanne Treaty
Turkey has done enough to resolve the long-running Cyprus problem and will not accept any new condition from the European Union, said Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
“It is out of the question for us to take any new step before December 17,” he told private NTV television in an interview on Wednesday night, referring to an EU summit when 25 leaders of the bloc will decide whether to start long-delayed accession talks with Turkey.
A draft summit statement prepared by the Dutch presidency of the EU indicated recently that Turkey will have to accept tough conditions, including de facto recognition of the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot administration, to get the talks started.
“Nobody should try to corner Turkey,” Erdoğan said, emphasizing that Turkey expected the EU to agree to start talks in the first half of 2005.
He indicated, however, that Turkey was open to new attempts aimed at a solution in Cyprus and said there could even be “surprises.” “We will continue with our struggle for a solution, we will be searching for it. There could be even surprises, you cannot know,” he said, without elaborating.
Erdoğan, when asked to comment on a recent invitation by the U.S. Embassy in Ankara to Greek Orthodox Patriarch Bartolomeos, based in İstanbul, to attend a reception as “ecumenical patriarch,” said the invitation was “improper.”
“And we showed that we had found it improper by sending a circular to all state offices,” he said, referring to a circular his office issued to ban state officials from attending the reception.
“Every country has its sensitivities and these sensitivities should be respected,” he said and added that the Patriarchate’s status was set out in the 1923 Lausanne Treaty.