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Brussels keeps Turkey waiting on EU entry
2002-10-07 22:06:37

Ian Black in Brussels
The Guardian-- Saturday October 5, 2002
Turkey will not be given a date for the start of negotiations on its membership of the European Union when the first 10 countries in the queue are told next week that they will be allowed to join. A date could be in the offing, however, if EU leaders are impressed by the outcome of the Turkish general election on November 3.

Sources in Brussels said yesterday that the European commission would approve the admission - expected in 2004 - of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Cyprus, Malta, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovenia and Slovakia: a judgment certain to be endorsed at the December summit in Copenhagen.

Romania and Bulgaria, which are lagging behind in their efforts to meet stringent economic and political criteria for membership, will be told that they can expect to join in 2007.

The confirmation that Turkey is likely to be snubbed in the commission's annual report comes at an especially sensitive moment.

The fraught question of relations between Ankara and Brussels may affect the outcome of next month's election.

Moreover, Turkey has just commuted the death sentence on the jailed Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan: a step seen as intending to show that it is adjusting to the EU's human rights requirements.

Its deputy prime minister, Mesut Yilmaz, shrugged off yesterday's news from Brussels, saying that the heads of government meeting in Copenhagen could ignore the commission's assessment and announce a starting date.

But that would clearly be too late to affect the outcome of the election. Mr Yilmaz's Motherland party is lagging in the opinion polls and struggling to get the 10% of the vote needed to win seats in parliament.

The foreign minister, Sukru Sina Gurel, said bluntly that a failure to get a date would have "a very negative effect on Turkish public opinion".

EU diplomats said the election outcome would be the crucial factor in deciding what happened at Copenhagen.

Turkey could still be given a conditional clause under which negotiations could begin if specified reforms had been implemented by an agreed date.

Turkey applied to join the EEC in 1963, but did not become a formal candidate until 1999. Many EU governments - and commissioners - still doubt whether the largely Muslim country of 68 million people can ever join.

The commission denied a report that Turkey would be given ?1bn a year in aid in lieu of a starting date for entry talks. But there may be a sizeable increase in its EU aid.

Next week's report is expected to praise its reforms, including the abolition of the death penalty in peacetime and more cultural rights for the Kurdish minority.

Another factor governments must bear in mind is that upsetting Ankara could reduce the likelihood of a peace settlement in Cyprus before it is admitted to the EU. And as a member of Nato it can block the slow-moving EU effort to establish its 60,000-strong rapid reaction force using assets and equipment borrowed from Nato.

Ankara's importance as a strategic ally of the US and Britain has also been greatly enhanced by the Iraq crisis.

? Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy and security supremo, urged member states to spend more on defence yesterday, to narrow the gap in military capacity between Europe and the US.

Britain and France have increased their defence budgets but the US is expected to spend $355bn (?226bn) this year and all 17 European members only $160bn.

The summer floods in Germany and pressure on governments to conform to eurozone spending limits have slowed down attempts to give the EU more military and diplomatic muscle to match its economic weight and the rapid reaction force still exists only on paper.

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