- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 25, 2004

PARIS (Agence France-Presse) — European capitals are guardedly favorable to opening talks with Turkey and paving the way to European Union membership, though some opposition parties remain hostile and public opinion is uncertain.

In Germany, a government official said Berlin would abide by the commission’s formal decision, to be announced on Oct. 6, on whether the talks should go ahead.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, quoted in New York by Spiegel Online, said he hoped for a positive decision, but warned that the talks for eventual Turkish accession would be “a very long process, [lasting] 10 to 15 years.”

Germany has one of the largest Turkish populations in Europe, and the opposition Christian Democrats have voiced opposition to Turkish accession. Its allied Christian Social party has echoed the opposition, and its foreign-affairs spokesman, Gerd Mueller, dismissed EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen as an “unelected European bureaucrat.”

French President Jacques Chirac has voiced support for Turkish membership once it meets “all the necessary conditions.”

But his prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, was skeptical in an interview Thursday in the Wall Street Journal, expressing doubt that Ankara could “bring Turkish society to accept European values on human rights.”

Britain has strongly supported Ankara’s EU aspirations. Prime Minister Tony Blair said in May that EU membership would be “important for Turkey, important for Europe and important for Britain, too,” and last month, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw warned that isolating Turkey would be in no one’s interests.

Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has long expressed support for Turkish EU membership, and his foreign minister, Franco Frattini, told the German daily Bild last week that Rome hoped that the EU summit would vote for talks.

However, a key member of Italy’s ruling coalition, the populist Northern League, is strongly against Turkey’s joining the EU, noting that “60 percent of Europeans” are also opposed.

The Vatican, citing Europe’s Christian heritage, has said that allowing Turkey to join would be a “huge mistake.”

In Spain, the government shares its favorable view of talks with Turkey with the opposition Popular Party. In Greece, Finland and Poland, too, a general view among all parties is that the opening of talks with Turkey should be welcomed.

In Denmark, however, liberal Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen, hosting the European Commission President-elect Jose Manuel Barroso, urged caution, saying that Copenhagen would base its decision on the commission’s report.

The opposition Social Democrats adopted a similar position, expressing strong reservations, and the far-right opposition Danish Popular Party said that Turkey “has no place in Europe,” saying it would a propose a national referendum on the issue.

As current holder of the rotating EU presidency, the Netherlands generally has held back from adopting a marked stand on the issue, but all the main parties favor opening the talks, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

On the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, which has been divided into Greek and Turkish sectors for the past 30 years, Greek-Cypriot President Tassos Papadopoulos has said that the issue of Turkey’s EU ambitions should be linked to resolving the Cyprus issue.

Though Nicosia has not definitively ruled out the possibility of wielding a veto in December, Mr. Papadopoulos said that this opposition was not the government’s policy, and the prevailing view is that it would be better to have Turkey in the EU than out of it.

Of all EU members, Austria appears the most opposed to Turkish membership, with Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel urging that the EU “digest” the latest wave of members, admitted on May 1 this year, before engaging in a further round of enlargement.

His ruling People’s Party is resolutely against Turkish membership, both at the leadership and grass-roots levels, as is the opposition Social Democratic party.

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