30 November 2004
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
BRUSSELS Turkey will have to recognize the Republic of Cyprus, if only tacitly, if it wants to begin membership negotiations with the European Union, according to a draft document that was leaked here Monday.
The document emerged as intense maneuvering began in anticipation of a decision by EU governments on whether Turkey can begin accession negotiations. The decision is set for Dec. 17.
The issue of Turkish membership has split the Continent, with skeptics doubting that the EU could absorb a large Muslim country.
Worries that richer Western European nations would be forced to subsidize Turkey, which would be one of the EU's biggest but poorest members, and that Turkey's entry into the EU could trigger a wave of migration have combined with concerns that Turkey does not share European values.
These doubts have hardened public opinion in some countries and led some governments, such as in France where a majority of citizens oppose Turkey's membership, to suggest that Turkey be given a loose association with the EU rather than full membership.
The focus on new conditions and obstacles, such as Turkey's lack of recognition of Cyprus, has dismayed Ankara.
It insists it will not recognize Cyprus, which joined the EU in May, despite Cypriot threats to veto accession negotiations. Turkey is the only European country that does not recognize the Cypriot government, which it claims represents only the majority Greek Cypriot community on the divided island.
The draft document, prepared by the Dutch government, appeared to hold out the prospect for negotiations between the EU and Turkey to begin next year, as Turkey desires.
But the draft underlined that Turkey's entry into the EU was not guaranteed. If Turkey failed to make progress on human rights and democratic reforms during the negotiating period, then the talks could be suspended by the European Commission or at the request of at least nine EU member states, the paper said.
The draft, to be discussed by EU ambassadors on Wednesday, is to form the basis of negotiations in anticipation of the Dec. 17 vote by EU leaders. The issue of Turkey's membership has become so sensitive that the supposedly restricted document was leaked within an hour of it being circulated among embassies in Brussels.
It would require Turkey to commit to "good neighborly relations" and a "resolution of remaining border disputes," which one EU diplomat said would imply a tacit recognition of Cyprus.
The draft also foresees Turkey recognizing the 10 member states that joined the EU in May this year, which includes Cyprus.
According to the draft, Turkey's membership was not envisioned to begin until after the EU had finalized its post-2014 budget, which puts the earliest possible entry of Turkey into the EU at 2015.
The draft's skeptical tone hit Turkish financial markets. The main share index fell by more than 2 percent, while the lira weakened.
Abdullah Gul, Turkey's foreign minister, hit back Monday at the idea that Ankara could be presented with a weaker "association" agreement.
He said that Ankara would agree to "no alternative" other than full EU membership.
"Turkey expects a clear date for the opening of accession negotiations," Gul told reporters in Ankara. He added that the negotiations should have no "special clauses" and aim only for Turkey's full EU membership.
Nicolas Sarkozy, the former French finance minister who took over as leader of France's governing party on Sunday, and who has exploited the rising tide of opposition toward Turkey, said he was opposed to Turkey's entry to the EU, preferring instead to see Turkey "associated" with Europe.
In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of Ankara's strongest supporters, said Turkey should not face more hurdles than any other prospective members. "Turkey is not actually asking for favorable treatment; it's asking for the same treatment," Blair said during his monthly Downing Street news conference.
"There should be no special obstacles put in its way, but the criteria that have to be applied should be applied to Turkey fairly and properly."
The document appeared to be preparing a tougher line than that recommended by the commission in October.
International Herald Tribune