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Europe

EU Membership Discussion Focuses on Turkey

The head of the Convention on the Future of Europe, Valery Giscard d’Estaing, has sparked a round of controversy by announcing that Turkish membership would mean "the end of the EU."

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Is Turkey European enough to be included in the EU?

In an interview with the French newspaper "Le Monde" on Friday, the man leading the discussions on the future of the European Union said that extending membership to Turkey would "spell the end of the EU." Valery Giscard d’Estaing told the paper that he was merely voicing what the "majority was thinking, but nobody dared to say."

The former French president said Turkey belonged neither geographically nor culturally to Europe. "Turkey is a nation close to Europe and an important country.. but it is not a European country," he was quoted as saying and stressed that the EU should stop at the continent’s borders. If not, the statesman added, "I give my opinion: it is the end of the European Union."

EU reactions

On Saturday the comments sparked angry reactions in Brussels, where EU officials said they would not let d’Estaing’s words jeopardize talks on Turkey’s candidacy.

Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, said that the same conditions apply to Turkey as to any other candidate country. "At the summit in Helsinki in 1999, the Danish government together with the other EU countries’ governments decided to give Turkey a status as a candidate country. That means that Turkey can become a member of the EU on the same conditions as the other countries," the minister said.

"At the summit in Copenhagen in December the EU’s heads of government decide on the next phase in Turkey’s candidacy. The EU is currently preparing that decision," Moeller’s ministry told reporters.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer warned Brussels not to "shut the EU door on Turkey or to build up a wall against it." Turkey needs the perspective of membership in the EU for the success of its political and economic reforms, Fischer said.

Uncertain membership

Giscard d’Estaing’s comments draw attention to the strong difference of views in the EU between those who believe Europe has an interest and a duty to embrace Turkey and those who say the Muslim country’s traditions and culture are too different for it to be included in the bloc.

Officially Turkey already has the status of candidate country, but last month the 15 current members declined to give it a date to start admission talks. Twelve other countries were mentioned in the list with definite dates, but Turkey was not – an indication that the predominately Muslim country is not wanted in the EU.

The recent election victory of the AKP party whose roots are in the Islamist movement hasn’t helped improve Turkey’s chances of entering in the EU either, although the party insists that it is a center-right representative of "Muslim Democracy."

The leader of the AKP, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is set to visit EU countries starting next week in a hope to drum up support for giving Turkey a date for accession talks at the Copenhagen summit in December. Erdogan told reporters that he does not view d’Estaing’s comments as a major stumbling block to Turkey admission in the EU. "It’s sentimentalism and nothing more," he said.

Alternative option

The chairman of the foreign affairs committee in the German parliament, Volker Rühe (Christian Democrat), suggested offering Turkey partial membership in the EU. Speaking to the newspaper "Rheinische Post" on Saturday, Rühe said he "could not imagine a European security policy that did not include Turkey." He advised European leaders to offer Turkey partial membership, "to show that we want as much cooperation with Turkey as possible."

Such an offer would send a positive signal to Ankara that it is on the right track, but that more reform needs to take place before it becomes a full-fledged member. The Ukraine has a similar cooperation pact with the EU.

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