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EU deadlock over starting Turkey talks deepens

October 3, 2005

By Marie-Louise Moller and Mark John

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) – European Union deadlock over the
terms for opening historic entry talks with Turkey deepened on
Monday with Austria insisting Ankara should be offered a status
short of full membership.

EU president Britain said it was no longer certain the
negotiations would start at all on Monday after Austria stuck
to its demand that the vast, poor, Muslim country be offered an
alternative to full membership and Turkey raised a new problem.

“That is by no means certain,” Straw told reporters after a
private meeting with Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik
and a telephone call with Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah
Gul.

“We are at a difficult stage in these negotiations and I
cannot say what the outcome will be,” a gloomy-faced Straw said
with Plassnik looking over his shoulder.

Turkey’s share index fell 2.3 percent from Friday’s close
after Straw’s comments. The lira and bonds were also weaker.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was quoted as
telling the ministers: “Time is running out. We have got to get
this right. We seem so close. We cannot let this opportunity
slip away.”

Compounding the problems, diplomats said Turkey had raised
new objections to a clause in the draft negotiating mandate
that stipulates that Ankara may not block the accession of EU
states to international organizations and treaties.

Turkish nationalists and the powerful military argued that
might prevent Turkey blocking a divided Cyprus from joining the
NATO alliance, although Straw insisted the clause could not
impinge on sovereign defense arrangements.

Failure to start the talks on time could deal a blow to
political reform and foreign investment in Turkey, a NATO
member which straddles Southeastern Europe and the Middle East.

With Gul cooling his heels in Ankara awaiting an EU
agreement on the negotiating mandate, the planned 5 p.m. (1100
EDT) opening ceremony seemed bound to be delayed.

Several EU ministers sounded gloomy. Denmark’s Per Stig
Moeller said: “It’s a big problem.”

Asked how serious the damage would be to the EU if there
were no agreement on Monday, Latvian Foreign Minister Artis
Pabriks told Reuters: “If there is no deal, my personal
judgment is that we are increasingly starting to look like a
Union of failing states because we cannot make any decisions.”

CROATIA POSTPONED

Ratcheting up pressure on Austria, Straw postponed a
planned review of Austrian ally Croatia’s progress toward EU
entry talks until the Turkey issue was sorted out.

“It is a frustrating situation, but I hope and pray that we
may be able to reach agreement,” Straw told a post-midnight
news conference after five hours of wrangling with Austria.

A Turkish official said nerves in Ankara were “extremely
stretched … Every minute that passes is making things more
bitter and it won’t be nice starting negotiations with all
these bruises.”

With Austrian voters overwhelmingly hostile to Turkish
entry, Plassnik waged a lone battle on Sunday night demanding
that the EU spell out an alternative to full membership.

Diplomats said the 24 other members insisted they could not
make any change to the central principle that the shared
objective of the negotiations would be accession.

“Isolation and pressure is never going to work in politics.
It’s not going to work inside the European Union, certainly
not. The Union should have and must have a different style,”
Plassnik told reporters in the early hours of Monday.

Asked whether Austria was prepared to veto the start of
talks, she said it took all 25 member states to agree.

WALK AWAY?

Fischer warned his colleagues that Turkey might walk away
if the EU watered down the terms on offer any further.

“If you want to open negotiations, you have to remember we
have to have someone to open them with,” a diplomat quoted him
as telling the meeting.

The EU has already irked Ankara by demanding that it
recognize Cyprus soon and open its ports and airports to
traffic from the divided Mediterranean island.

The European Parliament compounded Turkish irritation last
week by saying Turkey must recognize the 1915 killings of
Armenians under Ottoman rule as an act of genocide before it
can join the wealthy European family.

EU diplomats had hoped Austria would ease its stance after
regional elections in Styria province on Sunday. Chancellor
Wolfgang Schuessel’s People’s Party lost power there for the
first time since 1945 despite his brinkmanship on Turkey.

Schuessel has informally linked the Turkish issue to a
demand that the EU open accession talks immediately with
Austria’s largely Roman Catholic friend, Croatia.

But those talks have been frozen until Zagreb satisfies
U.N. war crimes prosecutor Carla del Ponte that it is
cooperating fully in the hunt for a fugitive indicted
ex-general.




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