Turkish hope of joining EU grows
- Turkish hope of joining EU grows
As tension rises before Sunday's election, Washington urges Brussels to reward human rights reforms by Ankara
Ian Black in Brussels
Friday November 1, 2002
The European Union is moving towards giving Turkey a long-coveted "date to fix a date" for the start of membership
negotiations, whatever the outcome of Sunday's general election.
Diplomats say there are good chances that even a government dominated by the pro-Islamic Justice and Development party
(AKP) - which is currently leading in the opinion polls - will be given a concrete sign at the EU's summit in Copenhagen
next month that it can join the club.
With Iraq in mind, Washington is pressing its EU partners hard to recognise the strategic value of Turkey, a
long-standing Nato ally, and overcome reservations about the Muslim country's political and human rights record.
Turkish legislation passed in August submitted to long-standing EU demands by abolishing the death penalty in peacetime,
ending bans on Kurdish-language broadcasting and education and easing curbs on the press.
But groups such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch say much more needs to be done, especially to help the hundreds of
thousands of displaced Kurds to return to their homes in the south-east.
Last week's EU summit in Brussels called for the reforms to continue, but failed to say whether a date for starting
membership talks would be forthcoming.
An election victory for the AKP, while viewed with suspicion by Turkey's generals, is not an issue for Brussels, as the
party is pro-European, democratic and reformist.
"What matters is delivery," a well-placed diplomat said. "The Turks have a long way to go, but they've gone incredibly
far already. We've seen the greatest reform since Ataturk."
Britain, echoing the US, is pressing for a so-called "rendezvous clause": a date to fix a date. So is Greece, which
believes that its problems with its neighbour will be better addressed from within the EU.
Brussels sources predict that the Copenhagen summit will fix a point in 2003 or 2004 to review progress on Ankara's
reforms and then set a date to begin membership negotiations, maybe in 2008, soon after Romania and Bulgaria are likely
Ten other countries are to be invited to join the EU in Copenhagen.
The most important EU player is Germany, historically among the most cautious about Turkey's membership, but which has
come round to the idea. France, Italy and Spain are also now onside. However, smaller EU countries such as Austria and
Sweden still have serious doubts.
Turkey is in a position to make demands. Brussels badly needs its agreement to a long-delayed deal to allow Nato's
assets to be used by the fledgling EU rapid reaction force.
Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy and security chief, said the next few weeks would be "decisive" for the EU's
relationship with Turkey.
Ankara's goodwill is also vital if the slow-moving UN talks on Cyprus are to progress towards a peace settlement in time
to avoid the grim prospect of the island joining the EU in 2004 while still divided, with Turkish troops occupying its