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Europe

Relief, Doubts as EU, Turkey Clinch Deal

The last-ditch deal between the EU and Turkey on the latter's membership bid has triggered relief among the bloc's negotiators and joy in Turkey, but deep skepticism still persists in conservative camps.

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Welcome: Turkish Foreign Minister Gül with UK counterpart Jack Straw

The European Union overcame stiff objections from Austria late Monday to finally launch membership talks with Turkey, four decades after Ankara first knocked on the bloc's door to gain entry.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer hailed the EU accord to start membership talks with Turkey Monday as a "historic step, adding that the deal was "a great opportunity for the security interests of the whole region."

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder too welcomed the move.

"With it the European Union has fulfilled a promise that it made to Turkey 40 years ago," the chancellor said.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who's country currently heads holds the rotating EU presidency, too said the agreement was nothing short of historic.

"We are all winners: Europe, the existing (EU) member states, Turkey and the international community," he told an early-hours news conference in Luxembourg,

Österreich EU-Beitrittsverhandlungen Türkei Außenminister Ursula Plassnik

Austria's Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, right, with Austrian ambassador to the EU Gregor Woschnagg

The 11th-hour deal followed nerve-wracking marathon negotiations after Austria demanded that the EU offer Turkey something less than full membership as part of the so-called "negotiating framework" for the talks, which sets out their principles and logistics.

Vienna had also pushed for stronger language warning that the EU's "absorption capacity" should be taken into account when assessing if Turkey can join.

Long road ahead

Despite the widespread relief in the European Union, which is still in turmoil following the crushing blow it received four months ago when French and Dutch voters rejected its planned constitution, observers are still playing down Monday's deal, warning that Turkey's eventual membership could take years.

Fischer said the negotiations "will last a long time, ten, 15 years, perhaps more."

Under the terms of the EU offer to Ankara, Turkey cannot hope to join the bloc before 2014, and there is no absolute guarantee of membership.

Beitrittsverhandlungen mit der Türkei begonnen

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer

"Europe won today. That is for me the key point," Fischer added.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso welcomed the official start of talks with Turkey to join the European Union, but warned that the country must win over the skeptical European public.

"Europe must learn more about Turkey. And Turkey must win the hearts and minds of European citizens. They are the ones who at the end of the day will decide about Turkey's membership," Barroso said in a statement released late Monday.

"Hello Europe"

In Turkey the mood was jubiliant on Tuesday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül reiterated past Ankara statements that EU entry could bridge gaps between Christians and Muslims and help to halt Islamic militancy.

"This is a win-win situation and the world will also win," Gül said.

Türkei Beitrittsverhandlungen Börse Istanbul Reaktionen Zeitung

A Turkish trader reads a newspaper with a headline that reads: "We stood firm and won"

The Turkish media was ecstatic Tuesday at the outcome of the negotiations with the EU.

"Hello Europe" was the headline splashed on the mass-selling daily Hürriyet. "Twice in history, we've turned back from the gates leading to Vienna," the paper wrote in reference to Austria's fierce resistance to Turkey's EU membership.

"Now we're entering Europe on the way to peace and cooperation," the daily wrote, adding that Turkey's 42-year-old dream of finding a place a Europe, was finally become reality.

Another Turkish daily, Milliyet spoke of "a new Europe and a new Turkey." The paper wrote that it was the first time that Europe was sitting down at the same table with an Islamic country and called it "a crucially important step" by the EU "to become a global power."

"Turkey and the EU merge their destinies, civilizations embrace," the daily Sabah wrote, while Vatan praised Ankara's hard bargaining with the headline: "We stood firm, we won."

The blue and red of the EU and Turkish flags were the backdrop to most front pages, while a Vatan cartoon depicted the gold stars of the EU flag sparkling on the skyline between two minarets.

Doubts persist over full membership

But elsewhere in Europe, doubts persisted in conservative quarters about the wisdom of giving a populous Muslim-dominated country a formal date to open EU membership talks at a time when opinion polls show that many Europeans are against full membership.

Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing attacked the move, claiming that if successful they would undermine the basic aim of the EU.

He told the RTL radio station that "France used to have a grand project -- the political union of Europe" -- but will now "no longer have a message to bear." He added, "We have allowed two further enlargements which are obviously going to transform Europe into a large free trade zone. That's what I regret."

In Germany, home to the largest Turkish immigrant community in Europe and where the conservatives led by Angela Merkel are supportive of Austria's stance to offer Turkey a "privileged partnership" instead of full membership, some papers too struck a cautious tone.

"With the fixation on full membership there is the risk of the
EU being destroyed by over-stretching. So who is being stubborn here?" the center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote.

The conservative Die Welt said Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel "spoke out loud what numerous Europeans think, but are not allowed to say: full EU membership for Turkey is nonsense until the fundamental questions of the EU's purpose, size and finances have been clarified."

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