Wednesday, December 15, 2004

NICOSIA, Cyprus — After 41 years of knocking on Europe’s door, Turkey is about to learn whether the European Union will accept its credentials for entry to the organization’s waiting room.

Before a two-day summit opening in Brussels tomorrow, the European Union made no sweeping promises or formal offers of encouragement to the predominantly Muslim nation of 71 million astride Europe and Asia.

In fact, it has warned Turkey in no uncertain terms that accession negotiations expected to last up to 10 years will be “an open-ended process whose outcome cannot be guaranteed.”

In Ankara, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday that Turkey will say no to the European Union if the bloc imposes unacceptable conditions on starting membership talks with the mainly Muslim country.

Mr. Erdogan’s remarks — reported by Turkish media and confirmed by a government official — came during talks with EU ambassadors in the Turkish capital ahead of the European Union summit.

“If conditions that we can’t accept are put forth on December 17, Turkey will not hesitate to say ‘no,’ ” the Turkish leader told the diplomats, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“Everything that Turkey has done until now has not been done by being forced by the EU, but through its own resources and efforts.

“Wanting to give Turkey a special status means not recognizing Turkey and the Turkish people. If there is such a thing, if talks aren’t being started or it’s going to end in a certain way, then Turkey will decide by itself what it is going to do,” he was quoted as saying.

The European Union’s decision is likely on Friday.

At best, the summit leaders can invite Turkey to enter into prolonged talks, which might collapse or be blocked by countries opposing either Turkey or a further expansion of the 25-nation union.

Pre-summit diplomatic sparring centered on the quality of Turkey’s reforms and human rights record, as well as its refusal to recognize the Greek-Cypriot government as the legal government of Cyprus, where Turkish troops have controlled the northern sector since their invasion in 1974. The Greek-Cypriot part of Cyprus joined the European Union in May.

Greek-Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos said he would wait until the last minute before deciding whether to veto Turkey’s accession process.

According to the latest opinion poll, Greek Cypriots overwhelmingly favor a veto.

The Turkish prime minister has rejected Greek-Cypriot demands for recognition of their government and troop withdrawal and said that the Cyprus question has no place on the summit agenda.

He accused the European Union of discriminatory tactics, saying, “No other country has had to wait 41 years at the EU’s door.” Turkey signed an association agreement with the European Union in 1963, was turned down twice as a candidate nation and finally was granted candidate status in 1999.

If Turkey is refused again, Mr. Erdogan said, it would be “a discriminatory act showing that the EU is a Christian club.”

Pre-summit discussions indicated a strong anti-Turkey undercurrent, particularly in countries with large numbers of Turkish immigrants such as Austria, France and Germany. Opposition to a Turkish candidacy and to the further expansion of European Union also has been voiced by Finland and Luxembourg.

The German opposition Christian Democrats and their Bavarian allies have suggested a form of “privileged relationship” with Turkey rather than full membership. Mr. Erdogan has rejected all such proposals.

A number of European officials said bluntly that if a date is set to begin the accession process, they would try to block Turkey in the later stages of the talks.

Prodded by the European Union, Turkey has been passing reforms of its public services and administrative methods, as well as other measures to improve its human rights image.

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