- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 19, 2004

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Turkey has taken a significant step toward EU membership by agreeing to shift control over the country’s vast frontiers from the hands of the military to those of the Interior Ministry.

Nonetheless, its relationship with the European Union suffered a setback when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told the Europeans to stop interfering in Turkey’s domestic affairs because “Turkey has already done what is necessary to start talks with the EU.”

The statement, which caused a fall in Turkey’s stock-exchange shares and currency on Friday, was in response to European warnings about pending reforms to the Turkish penal code and, particularly, a hotly debated proposal to outlaw adultery. To many Europeans, the proposal smacked of a medieval mentality incompatible with European concepts.

The Turkish press hailed the transfer of frontier-security control announced last week, but warned that other major battles lay ahead, and that up to 15 years could elapse before Europe abandons its reluctance to admit Muslim Turkey into its midst.

“Turkey is rolling up its sleeves without waiting for the EU decision on starting accession talks,” wrote the Istanbul Star, a center-right newspaper.

There was no official reaction to the frontier security changes from the military, the traditional guardian of Turkey’s secular system. The army general in charge of the crucial National Security Council was replaced by a civilian appointee earlier this year, but many EU officials remain wary of the role and influence of the Turkish military.

The armed forces have controlled the borders since 1988, when an increase in international terrorism overwhelmed the capabilities of the paramilitary “Jandarma,” part of the Interior Ministry.

But with an EU report on Turkish compliance with European regulations due early next month, Turkey decided it was time to place the frontiers in civilian hands again.

The government said it would set up a “Border Guard General Command” responsible to the Interior Ministry to patrol the land borders and the waters of the Black, Aegean and Mediterranean seas.

The decision comes as diplomats report growing resentment in Turkey at a barrage of often-contradictory European statements on the country’s qualifications to join the predominantly Christian “European club.”

The statements range from a description of Turkey’s democratic and economic progress as “fantastic” by Bernard Bot, the Dutch foreign minister, to warnings by several members of the European Commission in Brussels that admitting Turkey would “Islamize Europe.”

Franz Fischler, the European Union’s agriculture commissioner, has warned that Turkey’s commitment to democracy and secularism was brittle and that admitting it as a member would break the bloc’s farm-subsidies budget.

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