The European Parliament on Wednesday called on EU leaders to begin membership talks with Turkey "without undue delay," in a symbolic expression of support for Ankara on the eve of a Brussels summit.
Saying 'yes' to Turkey
Just ahead of the crucial Brussels summit in which EU leaders decide on opening accession talks with Turkey, the European Parliament voted by clear majority for giving the largely Muslim nation of 70 million a go-ahead.
With 407 votes in favor, 262 against and 29 abstentions, the MEP’s sent a strong but non-binding message to the 25 European heads of government and rejected decisively amendments offering a "special partnership" as had been called for by skeptical member states.
The parliament "calls upon the European Council (of EU leaders) to open the negotiations with Turkey without undue delay," it said in a report issued Wednesday afternoon.
In a follow-up to the vote, the lawmakers urged Ankara to continue human rights reforms, negotiate with Kurdish separatists who renounced violence and recognize mass killings of Armenians between 1915 and 1923 as "genocide," something Turkey has so far adamantly rejected.
No membership gurantee
Despite last-minute rhetoric from Ankara and a handful of European politicians critical of Turkey’s suitability for joining the 25-nation bloc, Brussels officials have said EU leaders would agree on Friday to open talks with an aim to membership.
"It is now time for the European Council to honor its commitment to Turkey and announce the opening of accession negotiations. A clear date should be indicated," EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told the European Parliament after the results of the vote were announced.
General view of the European Parliament during a plenary session in Strasbourg
Many observers expect the accession talks to last until at least 2015, before which Turkey will not be ready to enter the union. Even then EU policy makers have stressed that once talks begin, they can be broken off at any point if Turkey does not continue on the road to transforming its economy and society beyond the political and human rights reforms already enacted.
There is no automatic guarantee of membership, enlargement experts have warned. “We accept that the accession process is open-ended and its outcome cannot be guaranteed beforehand,” Barroso said before the parliament.
Starting date uncertain
Although there is a general agreement that talks should commence – even Austria, the most vocal opponent to Turkish membership, has come out in favor of beginning negotiations -- there has been a good deal of discussion over when the process should actually begin. Turkey has pushed for an immediate starting date without any extra reservations and conditions, while skeptical member states have argued for beginning talks in the second half of 2005.
France, which has been in favor of allowing Turkey to start accession talks, has sought to delay the start day out of fear that focus on Turkey will cloud public opinion in the run-up to a referendum on the EU’s new constitution expected in the first half of the year
At a summit in Copenhagen two years ago, EU leaders agreed that, if they gave the green light, they would call for negotiations to start “without delay.”
Ankara has said that if Brussels does not uphold its end of the bargain and presents unacceptable conditions at the Friday summit, it will withdraw its EU membership bid.
“We do not expect any unacceptable conditions to be put before us, but if such conditions are imposed, we will definitely put the matter in the refrigerator and continue on our way,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters on his way to the Brussels summit.