Foreign ministers from the European Union are in Brussels discussing the upcoming decision on entering talks with Turkey over future membership in the EU. But even at the last minute, they are not all of one mind.
Which way is the wind blowing for Turkey and the EU?
Britain and Germany have shown strong support for Turkey's EU bid. But their enthusiasm is not shared by all of the 25 foreign ministers meeting in Brussels. Some are still arguing for an alternative to full membership, although they call it by different names. France describes it as a "third way," Austria prefers the term "privileged partnership."
"We are of the opinion, that we should consider another option that the negotiation partners can accept as reasonable and appropriate," said Ursula Plassnik, Austria's foreign minister.
But Germany and the UK have rejected such an option. German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said that talks are being considered, precisely because Turkey has fulfilled the requirements for EU membership. He stressed that the actual entry would not be decided for some 10 or even 15 years, since negotiations are expected to last that long.
"There is no automatic accession. It is an open-ended process but with a clear goal, not aiming at alternatives," Fischer said.
A final formulation must be found over the next few days. EU heads of state are meeting on Thursday and Friday, when they will have to negotiate a date for the accession talks to begin. France wants to push back that date until the end of 2005, so it will not collide with a referendum on the EU constitution.
Austria has voiced concern that the integration of Turkey into the EU will be a financial headache, costing as much as €30 million ($40 million) a year, according to Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel.
Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, right, gestures while speaking with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, left
The Dutch, who currently hold the rotating EU presidency, are trying to work out a compromise that could be accepted by all 25 states. While Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot sounded optimistic that an agreement could be reached, a new Europe-wide poll has shown that many in Europe still reject the idea of Turkey joining the European club.
"I have read about these polls, but I think what counts in the end is what the prime ministers and heads of state will decide on Thursday and Friday," Bot told reporters in Brussels.
According to the Ifop institute poll of the five big west European countries, support for admitting Turkey was strongest in Spain (65 percent) and Italy (49 percent), with 41 percent in favor and 30 percent against in Britain. An opinion poll in the French daily Le Figaro showed 67 percent of French voters and 55 percent of Germans oppose Turkey joining the EU.
The Cyprus problem
The question of Cyprus has become a possible sticking point. Turkey does not accept Cyprus as a sovereign state, although Cyprus is now a member of the EU and could veto any decision about accession.
Cypriot Foreign Minister George Iacovou has linked the start of talks with Turkey to normal relations between Ankara and Nicosia. "We do hope that the summit conclusions will reflect Turkey's obligations towards Cyprus," he said.
Croatia et al.
EU foreign ministers did agree on inviting Croatia to the negotiating table, likely in March of next year. There are several prerequisites, however. One of the most important is that Croatia cooperate fully with the UN Tribunal in the Hague regarding war crimes in the former Yugoslavia.
As expected, a successful conclusion to Romania and Bulgaria's entry talks was acknowledged and the two eastern European countries are expected to join the EU in early 2007. The ministers did note that Romania has several reforms it has to put into place before officially becoming a member. Diplomats predict that the high-stake haggling will continue to the last minute of the summit, which is expected to end at noon on Friday, although the meeting could be extended if necessary.