European Parliament Calls for Talks With Turkey

The European Parliament called on European Union leaders to open membership talks with Turkey as soon as possible even as it urged Ankara to carry out more democratic reforms and move toward recognizing Cyprus, reports The Wall Street Journal Europe.

The European Parliament, meeting in Strasbourg, France, voted 407 to 262, with 29 abstentions, to pass the resolution, which is nonbinding but nevertheless likely to influence leaders on the eve of a historic summit in Brussels on Turkey’s membership application. During a two-day summit Thursday and Friday, the 25 EU leaders are expected to approve opening membership talks with Ankara sometime next year. The 25 leaders likely will agree to open membership talks without setting a deadline on when the negotiations should end. Many say they could last as long as 15 years.

The Associated Press further reports that unlike the addition of 10 mostly eastern European member states in May, the mere consideration that Turkey could join and that a predominantly Asian, overwhelmingly Muslim nation flush with cheap labor could one day become one of the EU’s biggest nation has touched the rawest of political nerves in many EU nations. But Turkey has the most powerful of backers in Germany and Britain while the most problematic nations are expected to be smaller nations like Austria, Slovakia, Denmark and Cyprus. Yet all EU leaders agree Turkey needs to go further down the path of much-needed political and economic reforms. When the European Parliament backed the membership talks, it also urged Ankara to carry out more democratic reforms and move toward recognizing Cyprus. The parliament and EU leaders want Ankara to meet demands for a „zero-tolerance“ approach to torture, which many still say is still being carried out by authorities in Turkey.

The Financial Times explains that France, Denmark and Austria want to include a phrase in the summit communiqué stressing that the talks are not guaranteed to succeed. Jacques Chirac, French president, is working with Gerhard Schroeder, German chancellor, to find a compromise, and last night explained his support for Turkish membership in a televised address to the French people, who largely oppose his stand. „The question we have to ask is whether Europe and, notably, France have an interest in having Turkey join them,“ Chirac said. „My answer is yes, if. Yes, if Turkey meets all conditions that are imposed on all candidates to our union. A senior aide to Schroeder said: „There should be just one goal for these negotiations: membership. This is why you will not find any reference to a privileged partnership as a second option.“

The Irish Times adds diplomats said yesterday that a consensus was forming among the 25 member-states in favor of a decision to start talks in October or November next year but to specify that the negotiations are „open-ended“. Austria’s chancellor, Wolfgang Schüssel, who is skeptical about Turkey’s membership bid, said yesterday he could accept such a compromise. „It has to be in there that the result will come from an open process, and that this result cannot be guaranteed in advance. And this will only be credible if another sentence is added that says if there is no positive result on the membership option, then there will be a firm anchoring of Turkey in European structures,“ he said.

The International Herald Tribune finally notes that EU leaders on Friday will also give final blessing to end accession talks with Bulgaria and Romania and set a date for signing an accession treaty with each. This would pave the way for them to join the EU in 2007 or 2008. The EU is also likely to agree to start accession negotiations with Croatia, probably in April, that are likely to be conditional on Croatia’s cooperation over war crimes investigations.

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