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EU talks deadlocked

June 26, 2009

During a visit to Brussels to revive Ankara's deadlocked EU accession talks, Turkish Premier Erdogan slammed Germany and France for opposing full EU membership for his predominantly Muslim country.

EU flags with the Turkish national emblem
Germany and France have been vocal in their opposition to Turkey's EU membershipImage: dpa - Bildfunk

Turkish Prime Minster Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday accused Germany and France of stalling its European Union membership bid by offering Ankara a "privileged partnership" rather than full membership.

"Turkey cannot accept the position of Germany and France. A privileged partnership doesn't exist in (European law)," Erdogan told journalists before attending a forum in Brussels, adding that Turkey's goal is full membership and any alternative "is out of the question."

Erdogan said French President Nicolas Sarkozy had been inconsistent, showing more openness to Turkey's accession in private talks than in public.

"Our European friends unfortunately have a unilateral expectation which is rather populist and it saddens us. I hope we will overcome this," he said.

Ankara launches diplomatic drive

EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, right, speaks with Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, at European Commission headquarters in Brussels
Erdogan, left, faces an uphill battle on Turkey's EU entry bidImage: AP

Turkey has mounted a diplomatic offensive aimed at boosting its chances of joining the EU, with Erdogan visiting Brussels twice in the span of three months.

In addition, his foreign minister, Ahmet Devutoglu, was also in Brussels on Friday to meet the EU enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn, ahead of an accession conference planned for next week.

Turkey's membership was also a campaign issue in this month's European Parliament election, with some right-wing parties making gains after opposing its accession.

"Some narrow-minded politicians have used Turkey as election material, and we believe this to be very wrong and very populist," Erdogan said. "We will never give up. We are patient, we do our homework ... and we continue moving forward."

Changing the constitution

Erdogan's comments come just a day after he had told journalists that plans to change the Turkish constitution, key to keeping Turkey's bid for EU membership on track, are a "waste of time" as long as opposition parties keep blocking all efforts in parliament.

Erdogan's comments were the clearest sign yet that his government could ditch its long standing goal of joining the 27-nation bloc.

Map of Turkey and surrounding countries
Most Europeans oppose Turkey's entry bid because it is a Moslem country, poor, and situated mostly in AsiaImage: AP Graphics/DW

Erdogan promised after March local elections to renew efforts to revamp the 1982 constitution, drawn up under military rule, which would go a long way towards removing one of the major obstacles in Ankara's EU path.

"All parties should be involved in efforts to reform the constitution, but the main opposition party rejects and blocks all efforts. So as long as we are faced with such an approach these efforts are nothing but a waste of time. We will have to continue with the present constitution," Erdogan said.

Sweden supports Turkey's EU bid

The EU wants Turkey to speed up political and economic reforms, including the removal of curbs on free speech, ensuring more rights for minorities and reducing the influence of the armed forces in government affairs.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy with German Chancellor Angela Merkel
French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel are vocal opponents of full EU membership for TurkeyImage: AP

Any sign that Turkey is throwing in the towel could spell serious trouble for its membership bid and even have negative consequences for the country's political and economic stability, analysts say.

"We are getting very close to crunch time," said Amanda Akcakoca, a specialist on the issue at the European Policy Center in Brussels. "Turkey needs to think out of the box and do something unexpected to impress Europe."

Ankara’s bid for EU membership does, however, have the support of Sweden, which takes over the six-month EU presidency on July 1.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt has said his country will try its best to open a new chapter of European Union membership negotiations with Turkey when it takes over the rotating EU presidency next week.

Reinfeldt told The Associated Press news agency that such negotiations would be of "utmost strategic importance for Europe" and pointed out the European Union had promised it would negotiate with Turkey.

Cyprus question

The process has also been slowed by Ankara's refusal to recognize EU member Cyprus. On Thursday, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said Cypriots should seize a “historic chance” to reunite the Mediterranean island.

"There is a unique chance this year to bring an end to this long-running conflict on European soil," Barroso told journalists. "This chance must be taken."

Cyprus was divided in a Turkish invasion in 1974 after a brief Greek-inspired coup. Turkey's entry to the European Union partly hinges on a peace deal in Cyprus, whose Greek Cypriots represent the island in the bloc.

The EU unanimously began accession talks with Turkey in 2005, but since then, negotiations have slowed to a crawl with the bloc deeply divided about accepting Turkey.

Adding to the sense of limbo, so far only 10 of the 35 policy areas that candidates must complete have been opened, and eight of these have been frozen over the Cyprus dispute.


Editor: Sonia Phalnikar