- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 29, 2011

BUDAPEST — Iceland will become the European Union’s 29th member state, Hungary’s foreign minister predicted Wednesday, one day before the bloc plans to admit Croatia.

Janos Martonyi said in an interview that the successful opening of Iceland’s accession talks on Monday told him that it is on the “right track” to become the bloc’s next member.

Iceland is next, no doubt,” he said.

Iceland applied for EU membership in 2009. If admitted, it would replace Malta as the least populous member state.

Hungary, which entered the EU in 2004, holds the body’s rotating presidency until Thursday, when Poland takes over.

Mr. Martonyi cited the beginning of Iceland’s accession talks and the succesful conclusion of Croatia’s as some of Hungary’s top achievements during its six-month term.

The Hungarian foreign minister, who flies to Brussels Thursday to help finalize Croatia’s admission, said the Balkan country’s should encourage other EU aspirants to meet the union’s benchmarks on economics, democracy and human rights.

Montenegro, Macedonia and Turkey have opened accession talks with the EU; Albania and Serbia have pending applications.

Mr. Martonyi’s prediction of a swift accession for Iceland could inflame tensions with Turkey, whose bid to become the EU’s first Muslim-majority country faces the opposition of EU heavyweights like France and Germany. EU admission requires the unanimous consent of the bloc’s member states.

Mr. Martonyi said Turkey’s bid is not dead, despite facing obstacles.

“The train is still moving, even if very slowly,” he said. “No one stopped the train yet.”

In an interview earlier this year, the Turkish prime minister’s chief foreign policy adviser accused the EU of changing its requirements to keep it out.

Mr. Martonyi said the claim is unfair, noting that at least one of Turkey’s outstanding negotiation chapters had been delayed due to political considerations revolving around Turkey’s recent elections.

The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which made EU membership a priority after coming to power in 2002, won its third consecutive landslide on June 12 and pledged to continue Turkey’s bid.

And that, said Mr. Martonyi, is fine with Hungary.

“Our position has been quite clear,” he said. “We think Turkey should become a member of the EU.”

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