Turkey's prime minister challenged the European Union on Sunday to be a "world player" rather than a "Christian club," as the bloc deliberated whether to open formal membership talks with the largely Muslim country.
Turkish Premier Erdogan expects the EU to put its cards on the table
"The picture ... will be very telling, not just for the future of Turkey but also for that of the EU," Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at a conference of his Justice and Development Party in the northwestern spa resort of Kizilcahamam.
"Either the EU will decide to become a world force and a world player, which would show its political maturity, or it will limit itself to a Christian club," Erdogan added, in an address broadcast by the CNN Turkey TV station. The prime minister described the decision on opening formal accession talks as a "test" of the bloc's commitment to the values of pluralism and democracy.
EU foreign ministers met in Luxembourg on Sunday night in an 11th hour bid to agree a negotiating framework, which has so far been blocked by Austria's objection to full membership for Turkey. Vienna favors the alternative of a "privileged partnership" with Turkey, an option rejected by Ankara, which threatened this week to not attend Monday's negotiations if such a plan was on the table.
Straw: Key moment in history
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw speaks to reporters gathered in Luxembourg
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, arriving for the emergency meeting, warned that the 25-member bloc stands at a key moment in its history as it prepares to start membership talks with Turkey.
"This is a crucial meeting for the future of the European Union," he said, underlining that failure to start the talks "would represent a failure for the European Union."
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana voiced optimism about the talks. "I think we will find a deal tonight," he said.
But France's foreign minister said that the starting of talks doesn't guarantee eventual membership. Many top French politicians favor the "privileged partnership" option.
"To make believe that negotiations mean entry, that's a lie, Philippe Douste-Blazy said in a radio and television interview.
Now or never
Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül warned Sunday that Turkey was unlikely to reopen membership negotiations if official entry talks did not begin as scheduled on Monday.
"I cannot see them happening again," he said in an interview with the Yeni Safak newspaper. Saying that he considered Oct. 3 as nothing more than an "implementation date" for decisions already taken by the bloc in December, Gül reiterated that Turkey was not prepared to "begin negotiations whatever the price."
The bloc approved Monday's planned accession talks on Dec. 17, providing that Turkey implemented certain legal reforms and broadened a customs union to take in 10 new member states, including the disputed island of Cyprus.
Turkey has met these obligations, although concerns were raised at the European Parliament in Strasbourg last week over Ankara's refusal to let Cypriot ships and planes use its ports and airports, as required by the customs deal.
Relations with the bloc have also been strained by Turkey's declaration in July reaffirming its refusal to recognize the government of Cyprus and by Ankara's refusal to recognize a genocide" against Armenians under the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, a highly sensitive issue for Turkey.