The European Union entered the next phase of membership talks with Turkey on Tuesday. But an important "chapter" on economic and monetary policy was left out at the urging of French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Turkey hasn't given up on EU membership
Instead, the EU began discussing two other less important issues at Tuesday's accession talks in Brussels: statistics and financial control. These are two of 35 chapters which make up EU law. All of these chapters have to be negotiated before a country can join the European Union.
The German EU presidency wanted to discuss important areas of economic and monetary policy with Turkey this week. But it was left off the agenda to appease Sarkozy, who threatened to block the issue, according to diplomats.
Sarkozy outspoken on Turkey
Sarkozy doesn't want Turkey in the EU
Sarkozy has been a vocal opponent of Turkey joining the EU, saying in an interview with the Parisian newspaper Le Figaro that the Muslim country had "no place in Europe." He would like to see a strategic partnership, but not EU membership for Turkey.
A French diplomat noted that not all policy areas could be treated the same.
"Negotiations with Turkey continue," he said, according to news reports. "But there are chapters and there are chapters."
A Turkish foreign ministry official said Ankara was unhappy with the fact that the bloc did not agree to start negotiations on the more important area of economic and monetary policy.
"If it is technical we will tackle any problems and move on (with that chapter), but if the decision is politically motivated we could not welcome that," the official said.
Turkey not giving up
Turkish negotiators have a lot of convincing to do
Speaking just before news of the decision, Turkish Economy Minister and chief negotiator Ali Babacan said Ankara would not give up on the talks. The country will push ahead to meet conditions to join the EU, he said.
"Regardless of what chapters are opened, regardless of what chapters are closed, we will integrate our legislation as soon as possible, and we will wait (until the EU is ready for Turkish membership)," Babacan said at an investor conference in Istanbul.
The talks are still in their beginning stages and it's premature for Sarkozy to oppose Turkey's inclusion in the EU, said Cornelius Ochmann, an expert for EU enlargement issues at the Bertelsmann Foundation.
"Sarkozy would like to completely abandon the negotiations," Ochmann said. "However, that would mean that the EU could have no further positive influence over Turkey and that it would be very isolated."
Negotiations should be carried out to the end, Ochmann said. It could take as long as 15 years before all 35 chapters are negotiated. Even then, entry would not be automatic. EU officials would not only check whether Turkey had met all of its conditions but also whether the EU is politically and economically strong enough to take Turkey on as a new member. The hurdles for Turkey's membership are higher than for all other candidates, Ochmann said.
The fact that economic issues won't be brought up is "a negative signal, almost a small rejection," of Turkey, Ochmann said.
Cyprus still a problem
Negotiations with Turkey will take at least a decade
Gerald Knaus of the European Stability Initiative (ESI), an expert for south eastern European politics predicts that the Cyprus problem will continue to hang over the negotiations.
The EU last year suspended negotiations on eight chapters after Turkey failed to meet a requirement to open its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus.
"There are reservations, but the EU machine is running and it's better to discuss two chapters than no chapters."
Croatia 's EU bid looking bright
While Turkey's inclusion in the EU is still a distant possibility, Croatia is closing in on its goal of joining the EU in 2009.
On Tuesday, Croatia opened six further chapters for negotiation. Eleven have already been decided.
"The opening of these six chapters sends a strong signal," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency till the end of the month. "It's a real breakthrough."
Croatian Foreign Minister Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic said she expected her country to meet EU benchmarks and close several chapters of negotiation in 2008.
"We expect 2009 to be the year when we achieve readiness for accession, meaning concluding negotiations, signing the accession treaty and beginning the accession process," she said.