On the verge of opening EU accession talks, Turkey is facing growing violence from Kurdish separatists and growing opposition from within Europe, potentially jeopardizing Ankara's bid to join the bloc.
A bomb Saturday killed five people including two European tourists
Officially, European Union leaders say things remain on track for the start of talks with Ankara in October, subject to conditions. But there is little doubt that Turkey's drive to become part of the 25-nation EU is currently mired in problems.
Kurdish separatists are believed to be behind a bomb attack that killed five people -- including British and Irish tourists -- on Saturday in a western Turkish seaside resort. Combined with the exchange of threats between Turkish officials and Kurdish rebels across the border in Iraq, the increased tensions could help increase European doubts whether the country is cut out for EU membership.
Heinz Kramer from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin told DW-Radio that any Turkish military operation against Kurdish rebels in Iraq would put Ankara's EU ambitions on ice.
"The Europeans would step on the breaks and the accession process would be suspended for the time being," Kramer said.
Irish Foreign Minister Dermot Ahern told his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gül in Ankara this week there was a growing fear of Muslim countries among Europeans, which posed a risk to Turkey's ambition of joining the European Union, according to Ahern's spokesman. Gül assured Ahern that immediate steps would be taken to ensure the security of Western tourists in Turkey after Saturday's deadly attack, but the damage may already be done.
A new opinion poll showed a majority of Europeans are opposed to offering Turkey EU membership. A Eurobarometer poll released this week indicated that 52 percent of Europeans are against offering EU membership to Turkey, with only 35 percent in favor.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, whose country took over the EU reins this month, shrugged off those numbers on Monday, saying European leaders would stick to there plans to begin talks with Ankara.
"There's been a strategic decision made by the European Union that Turkey's future lies in Europe, and that our strategic interests lie in that happening," said Straw, chairing a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels.
But Straw, whose country has been a champion of Ankara's hopes, stressed that the EU has made it clear to Turkey that there is no guarantee of eventual EU membership. In any case, however the negotiations proceed, "it's widely agreed this (EU entry) would not happen for at least a decade," he told reporters after the monthly ministerial talks.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw gestures while speaking during a media conference after a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the EU Council building in Brussels, Monday July 18, 2005.
He also underlined that EU governments will ultimately have the last say on Turkey's hopes, as Ankara's entry will have to be ratified by all member states, either by parliamentary vote or public referendum. "That's the appropriate way to discern popular opinion, so it's not being bypassed at all," he said.
EU leaders agreed last December to open talks with Ankara, but set a number of conditions, and notably stressed that the negotiations would be "open-ended" -- meaning they may not lead to EU membership. Backers of Turkey's hopes say notably that Ankara must be firmly tied into the EU to extend stability into the volatile region on Europe's southeastern rim.
Critics say the country is simply too big, and too economically and culturally different, to integrate into the expanding bloc, with many calling for a "privileged partnership" with the EU rather than full entry.
Austria has been one of the most vocal opponents of Turkish EU membership, and a senior minister in Vienna said this week that discussions on Ankara's hopes should be postponed. "Turkey does not meet any of the criteria necessary to enter into the EU -- neither economic, social, nor political," Finance Minister Karl-Heinz Grasser told the daily Standard newspaper.
Grasser remains in the minority of European leaders, however, that could soon change. The head of Germany's conservative opposition, Angela Merkel, on Tuesday reiterated her belief in a "privileged partnership" for Ankara rather than full accession, telling journalists in Paris that a victory of her party would lead to "intense discussions" in the EU ahead of the October target date for the start of membership talks. Merkel's position was echoed by French Interior Miniters Nicolas Sarkozy.
"After the failures of the referendums (on the EU constitution) in France and the Netherlands, we need to start worrying about Europe's future. We need to talk about the limits of future enlargement. We need borders. People have to know where the borders are," Merkel said.
Merkel is expected to become German chancellor in an early election this fall and Sarkozy is widely tipped to become French president in two years' time.