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Europe

Erdogan: "We Have Done our Homework"

This week, the European Commission will publish a report expected to give Turkey the go ahead to start accession talks. In an interview with Deutsche Welle, the Turkish Premier was convinced this would take place.

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"I reject any further stipulations for beginning EU membership talks."

On Oct. 6, the executive branch of the EU will present a long-awaited progress report on Ankara's chances of joining the 25-member bloc. The findings of the study will form the basis of a decision by EU leaders at a December summit on whether or not to begin membership negotiations with Turkey. The Commission is widely expected to give the thumbs up.

However, an impact study to be approved alongside the main recommendations suggests that the predominantly Muslim country on the fringe of Europe will not be able to count itself a full-fledged member of the EU until well into the next decade. EU Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen has predicted a long and bumpy road full of specific prerequisites both for Ankara and the larger bloc.

Verheugen, who only two weeks ago announced there were "no more problems on the table" and no further obstacles to beginning accession talks, has now indicated that certain requirements need to be fulfilled before the EU can welcome Turkey into its fold. First among them, according to inside sources, is a restricted access to the European labor market. In contrast to the current new members who enjoy free circulation of labor after a certain period of time, Verheugen favors long-term restrictions for Turks seeking jobs in existing member states.

The Enlargement Commissioner would also like to stipulate changes in the EU agricultural subsidies system, which if left in place would result in annual costs of between 16 and 28 billion euros ($19 to $34 billion) once Turkey joins, and stricter controls of political reforms.

No new requirements

In an interview with Deutsche Welle and a small circle of German journalists, Turkish Minister President Recep Tayyip Erdogan adamantly rejected any further stipulations to beginning membership talks.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan und Günter Verheugen in Brüssel

Erdogan refers to the Enlargement Commissioner as "my good friend," after Günter Verheugen announced there were no more problems ahead of beginning negotiations.

"I have never heard anything like that from Mr. Verheugen, not in any way. In the catalog of criteria for the European Union there is no such thing as requirements for beginning negotiations. He could perhaps write something about our little faults. That would be normal and would be cleared up during the negotiation period," Erdogan said.

As to the significant sum in subsidies the EU would have to shoulder in the decade following Turkey's accession, the premier said it was too early to make any such assumptions:

"In my opinion it's too early to begin talking about such things. In Helsinki in 1999, the EU decided that Turkey was a candidate for membership. All these things were prepared with the full awareness of the EU. In the coming years, the situation will change dramatically. One should not only talk about what the EU will have to pay. One should also say what the EU will gain through Turkey's membership."

No question of membership

In its impact study, the EU Commission addresses the economic benefits Turkey would bring to the rest of Europe and concluded that Ankara's relatively weak economy would not result in a significant boon for the bloc.

Despite opposition to Turkey's membership, Erdogan is convinced that in December the 25 heads of state and government will recommend starting accession talks. A further postponement or a rejection is out of the question, the prime minister said.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Kopenhagen

Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the media Nov. 26, 2002 in Copenhagen after the EU came up with a set of criteria for Ankara

"That would be a hard punch for me and my people, because we have done our homework. It is now up to the EU to hold up their end. We have done everything as it stands in the criteria. Commissioner Verheugen said, there are no more problems on the table. The world was our witness. I do not believe that it will happen, but should we receive a negative answer than we will just rename the Copenhagen criteria (the list of requirements for membership) the Ankara criteria and go our own way."

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