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Europe

Screening Turkey for EU Compatibility

After the recent red carpet and champagne to celebrate the beginning of EU entry talks, it's down to hard work for candidate countries Turkey and Croatia. The first formal phase of talks began Thursday.

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Not so soon: EU negotiations with Turkey will take a decade

Explaining the EU's 80,000 pages of law to candidate countries Turkey and Croatia and reviewing the compatibility of their legislation with EU rules marks the first step of membership negotiations known as "screening."

The aim of this in the first phase is to explain the "aquis communautaires" to the candidate countries -- the EU laws, standards and legislation -- and in the second phase, to have a dialogue with these countries and compare their legislation in the relevant fields," said Christina Nagy, spokesperson for the European Commission.

"At the end of the process, the Commission will prepare a so-called screening report," she added.

The European Commission estimates it will take about one year to identify the loopholes and deficiencies in the laws of the candidate countries.

Once this is complete, entry negotiations begin in earnest and applicants must plug the gaps and demonstrate that their laws are in keeping with those of the EU. If all 25 of the current member states are satisfied this is the case, negotiations can then be formally closed.

35 chapters

The catch is that this must be done separately for each of the so-called chapters into which EU-law is divided. There are 35 chapters -- so theoretically, current members all have 35 chances to veto a new applicant.

Zypern Ende der EU

UN soldiers at the Ledra Palace checkpoint in Nicosia, Cyprus

Negotiations with Turkey are expected to last at least 10 years, and the most delicate chapters will be those in which the unresolved conflict on the island of Cyprus plays a role. These will be screened next year under the EU presidency of Austria.

Austrian antagonism

The Alpine republic is no great supporter of Turkey, after Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schlüssel tried -- up to the last minute -- to stop entry talks opening with the goal of full EU-membership.

Abdullah Gül in Brüssel

Turkey's Foreign Affairs Minister Abdullah Gül is optimistic

Turkish foreign minister Abdullah Gül has said he nevertheless anticipates negotiations to proceed fairly under the Austrians.

Two weeks ago, Austria's position was opposed by all 24 other EU members, but this might change.

Continued German support

A further stumbling block is Germany. The future foreign policy of Germany’s new government led by Angela Merkel must still be agreed upon in ongoing coalition talks between the Conservative Union and the Social Democrats.

Merkel has made clear she wants to offer Turkey a privileged partnership instead of full membership, but a Turkish newspaper has reported that designated German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier wants to stick to the Turkey-friendly course of his former boss, outgoing Chancellor Gerhard Schröder.

On November 9, EU-Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn will release a progress report on Turkey.

Kroatien im Gefolge der Türkei

The flags of Croatia, right, and the European Union fly over Zagreb

Turkish television channel NTV is already reporting that the EU will criticize restrictions on freedom of the press and opinion in Turkey, as well as legal proceedings against author Orhan Pamuk and journalist Hrant Dink for making critical statements about the Turkish massacre of Armenians during the First World War.

Croatian promises

The screening process for Croatia is expected to be a shorter and easier, as its legal and economic system is better oriented towards European standards.

Entry negotiations with Croatia could be completed in a few years, if the Balkan country keeps its promise of working with the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia .

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