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US Presses Summit to Agree Talks on Turkey Joining EU

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US presses summit to agree talks on Turkey joining EU

Ian Black and Michael White in Copenhagen

Friday December 13, 2002

The Guardian

European Union leaders began their Copenhagen summit last night under intense US pressure to overcome divisions and agree a date for Turkey to begin negotiations to join the club.

With President George Bush, publicly backed by Tony Blair, eager to keep Turkey onside as a key player in its Iraq strategy, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the Danish prime minister and summit host, presented a compromise proposal.

Despite US pressure, he insisted Turkey will still have to meet stringent EU human rights criteria before getting the green light to start talks, possibly as soon as next year.

But as haggling began on the final deal on the union's "big bang" enlargement from 15 to 25 member states, Mr Blair warned that French and German hopes to delay the start of negotiations until 2005 would prove a strategic error in Europe's dealings with Islam.

"2005 is too late," he said, though aides refused to say when he would prefer the start. His spokesman would only say that London, like Washington, wants them "as soon as possible".

The prime minister's first meeting in Copenhagen was with Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish leader, who wants talks to begin next year. He has accused the EU of double standards and behaving like a "Christian club".

Mr Rasmussen said he wanted to send a "positive signal" to the newly elected reformist government in Ankara, which has been lobbying stridently, with US support, to get an early date with its European destiny.

Italy, Spain, Belgium and Portugal all back talks starting in January 2004. So does Greece, which believes that its often difficult relations with its Aegean neighbour will be easier to manage with Turkey safely inside the EU.

France and Germany have proposed that talks open only in 2005 ifcompromise proposal.

Despite US pressure, he insisted Turkey will still have to meet stringent EU human rights criteria before getting the green light to start talks, possibly as soon as next year.

But as haggling began on the final deal on the union's "big bang" enlargement from 15 to 25 member states, Mr Blair warned that French and German hopes to delay the start of negotiations until 2005 would prove a strategic error in Europe's dealings with Islam.

"2005 is too late," he said, though aides refused to say when he would prefer the start. His spokesman would only say that London, like Washington, wants them "as soon as possible".

The prime minister's first meeting in Copenhagen was with Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish leader, who wants talks to begin next year. He has accused the EU of double standards and behaving like a "Christian club".

Mr Rasmussen said he wanted to send a "positive signal" to the newly elected reformist government in Ankara, which has been lobbying stridently, with US support, to get an early date with its European destiny.

Italy, Spain, Belgium and Portugal all back talks starting in January 2004. So does Greece, which believes that its often difficult relations with its Aegean neighbour will be easier to manage with Turkey safely inside the EU.

France and Germany have proposed that talks open only in 2005 if by then Turkey has shown improvements in its economic performance and human rights record. Austria, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are even more reluctant.

EU doubters have argued it would be a mistake to give Turkey its date before June 2004, when elections to the European parliament are due.

In Germany, where the Christian Democrat opposition leader, Edmund Stoiber, is an outspoken critic of Turkish membership, the ruling Social Democrats fear serious losses in those elections if Turkey is already a candidate.

The crucial issue for Turkey is that negotiations are launched before May 2004, when the 10 newcomers are scheduled to join. It especially wants to avoid the danger that Cyprus could block the whole process if negotiations to reunite the island falter. Hopes of a UN-brokered deal during the actual summit faded last night, but the EU was still expecting strong pressure from Turkey on the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash. "We are closer than we have ever been to a settlement on Cyprus," said the US envoy, Tom Weston.

The EU has decided to accept Cyprus even without reunification. But Turkey has in the past warned it will annex the occupied north of the island if that happens, a move that would clearly destroy its own chances of EU membership.

Most EU governments have been irritated by the pressure brought to bear by the US. Wa by then Turkey has shown improvements in its economic performance and human rights record. Austria, the Netherlands and Luxembourg are even more reluctant.

EU doubters have argued it would be a mistake to give Turkey its date before June 2004, when elections to the European parliament are due.

In Germany, where the Christian Democrat opposition leader, Edmund Stoiber, is an outspoken critic of Turkish membership, the ruling Social Democrats fear serious losses in those elections if Turkey is already a candidate.

The crucial issue for Turkey is that negotiations are launched before May 2004, when the 10 newcomers are scheduled to join. It especially wants to avoid the danger that Cyprus could block the whole process if negotiations to reunite the island falter. Hopes of a UN-brokered deal during the actual summit faded last night, but the EU was still expecting strong pressure from Turkey on the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash. "We are closer than we have ever been to a settlement on Cyprus," said the US envoy, Tom Weston.

The EU has decided to accept Cyprus even without reunification. But Turkey has in the past warned it will annex the occupied north of the island if that happens, a move that would clearly destroy its own chances of EU membership.

Most EU governments have been irritated by the pressure brought to bear by the US. Washington has always valued Turkey as a Nato ally, turning a blind eye to human rights excesses, but is arguing its case strongly now because of its role in any war on Iraq.

Last night No 10 refused to say when Mr Blair last discussed the Turkish question with Mr Bush but said: "Our position is the same as the president's."

Nicole Fontaine, the French industry minister, said: "It's certainly not up to the president of the United States to interfere in something so important and which mainly concerns Europeans."

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first of all, what business is it of the US what the EU does and who it admits?

second, is this a joke? turkey joining the EU? that's like the US joining the Arab League....Turkey is a Muslim country, with many social,economic, and political problems...they are going to let them in just because the US is allowed to bomb the hell out of Iraq from eastern Turkey? The Turks are selling out and I can't believe they have sunken this low to pimp themselves to the Europeans and Americans.

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