- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 4, 2005

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Turkey’s acceptance as a candidate for membership in the European Union after a day of nail-biting negotiations has left many Turks wondering whether the effort was worth the trouble.

While hailing the failure of an Austrian bid to block Turkey’s application to become a candidate for full EU membership, Turkish press yesterday stressed the difficulties of becoming “European” at home and abroad.

“In theory, Turkey has never been closer to the EU, but in practice, Turkey and the EU are drawing further apart each day,” said Burak Bekdil, a political commentator in Ankara, Turkey.

Some diplomats confirmed that assessment after 30 hours of nerve-racking negotiations in Luxembourg, where Austria had held out until the last minute for a reduced offer to Turkey of a “privileged partnership.”

Despite the failure of that effort, Austria’s doubts are echoed widely across the European Union’s 25 member nations. Opinion polls show approval of Turkey as a European nation varying from 10 percent in Austria to 20 percent in France and 49 percent in Hungary.

If such feelings persist, even if the accession talks succeed, popular referendums planned in France and Austria could sink Turkey’s European aspirations.

The mass-circulation Istanbul Milliyet daily asked: “Was it really a historic day or merely the beginning of grueling negotiations that may lead nowhere?”

Although Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul said Turkey has emerged from the crisis “with its head high,” the general feeling was that the European leaders pushing for Turkey’s admission did not reflect the views of their own citizens.

“Our government is simply listening to the people,” Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said in explaining her country’s opposition.

Although many EU leaders cheered the success of their drive to anchor Turkey in Europe, former French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing, one of the authors of the European constitution, said: “The question is whether Turkey is or is not a European country. History and geography say no.”

Bitterness at the reluctant nature of Europe’s invitation to talks was reflected yesterday across the Turkish press, which carried comments such as: “We are an unwanted partner,” “I do not want the EU, it is a Christian club” and “They only want our land, they will never take us in.”

The Greek and Greek Cypriot governments support Turkey’s entry, feeling that the huge Muslim country with a strong military influence could be better controlled as part of Europe than as a loose cannon.

Nevertheless, the conservative Athens daily Kathimerini said: “Europe is not able, nor can it afford, to undertake the absorption of the Muslim population of Turkey, which will naturally face the risk of splintering if it upholds principles of the protection of minority rights.”

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