Prague, 12 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- West European press commentary is concerned with Turkey's absence from today's European Union London conference. The summit meeting brings together leaders of the 15 EU members and 11 candidate states -- Cyprus plus 10 from Central and Eastern Europe. At the same time, U.S. papers continue to express their views on NATO's planned expansion eastward, the subject of an important upcoming Senate debate and vote.
British, Turkish and German newspapers in particular focus today on the EU's so-called European Conference, originally designed both as a ceremonial opening to the Union's enlargement process and as a sop to Turkey. Three months ago, EU leaders meeting in Luxembourg decided Turkey was not currently eligible for candidate status but invited it to attend the London meeting as an equal. Ankara took this as an insult, with Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz publicly castigating Germany as the instigator, and resolved to boycott the meeting.
GUARDIAN: Mr. Kohl ordered the strong signal to the Turks
Taking account of a new attack on Germany by Yilmaz, who yesterday accused Bonn of "intolerable delaying tactics" on Ankara's bid for EU membership, a news analysis in Britain's Guardian daily says that "relations between (the) two key European NATO allies (have) plunged to a fresh low." Writing from Bonn, correspondent Ian Traynor says: "There are well over two million Turks living in Germany, by far the biggest ethnic minority, and many are second and third generation immigrants born and raised in Germany." His analysis also recalls another element important in the dispute: "A meeting of Christian Democrats in Brussels a year ago, which was led by (Chancellor Helmut) Kohl, issued a sudden surprise snub to Ankara's EU ambitions, stating baldly that Turkey could not hope to join the Union, despite 35 years of talks....Sources at the meeting said that Mr. Kohl ordered the strong signal to the Turks."
FINANCIAL TIMES: The general expectation is of warm words rather than any specific decision
A news analysis in the Financial Times says that what it calls Turkey's "absent ghost" will be sensed at today's London conference. David Buchan and John Barham write: "Several of the 26 European leaders gathered in the gilded rooms of London's Lancaster House today may wonder why they have turned up for a meeting largely emptied of immediate significance by Turkey's decision to stay away." They continue: "The general expectation (about the meeting) is of warm words about the historic importance of (EU) enlargement rather than any specific decision that might accelerate it."
TURKISH DAILY NEWS: Germany has for decades pursued a consistent policy favoring Ankara's accession
The English-language Turkish Daily News, published in Ankara, today carries four separate news, commentary and editorial articles related to the London meeting. In a commentary defending his Government, German Ambassador to Turkey Hans-Joachim Vergau writes: "All Europeans appreciate the strategic and economic importance of Turkey and therefore support its EU (aspirations). Germany...the home of 2.2 million Turks, has special a responsibility and desire to see Turkey included in the European family. Taking into account (our) mutual interest in Turkey's integration into Europe, Germany has for decades pursued a consistent policy (favoring Ankara's) accession. Contrary to the assessment that prevails in Turkey, the German input into (the) Luxembourg's summit (decision not to accept Ankara's candidacy) constitutes no deviation from this policy."
TURKISH DAILY NEWS: The EU summit in Luxembourg denied Ankara the right to be in the European expansion process
An editorial in the same paper by Ilnur Cevik takes a somewhat different view of the dispute. It says: "Turkey is not participating in the 26-nation European summit that will be held in London today...because the EU summit in Luxembourg denied Ankara the right to be in the European expansion process....(But) we feel it is too easy to put the blame (solely) on the Germans and Chancellor Kohl.... The EU (as a whole) is not prepared to accept (largely Moslem) Turkey as a member in (its) Christian social club and we are not prepared to play in their garden as an outcast. Turks have to face (such) realities and set their future policies accordingly."
FRANKFURTER ALLGEMEINE ZEITUNG: A shadow is being cast on enlargement by the Athens-Ankara Cyprus conflict
German newspapers also comment today on the London conference and Ankara's quarrel with Bonn. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung says: "A little more than eight years since the fall of the (Berlin) Wall, which symbolized a turn in the history of Europe, the EU is faced with its biggest challenge: (the) opening this month of the process of its enlargement to Central and East European states." The paper goes on to say: "There is perhaps a danger in the (EU's) expansion time-table (coming from the southeast): A shadow is being cast (on enlargement) by the (Athens-Ankara) Cyprus conflict and the notorious rivalry between Greece and Turkey on the expansion negotiations. Threats from the one side are answered by threats from the other. There is a 'potential for complication' here that could spoil many calculations."
NUEREMBERGER ZEITUNG: Mesut Yilmaz feels that he can insult Germany without being punished
The Nueremberger Zeitung analyzes German-Turkish relations, writing: "(Premier) Mesut Yilmaz studied and worked in Germany. That's how he apparently learned to know his host so well that he now feels that as Turkish Prime Minister he can insult Germany without being punished. This has even been reflected on (a lower level): (Turkish) Labor Minister Nami Cagan yesterday made a shabby excuse for canceling his scheduled visit to Germany: He said his (German) counterpart (Norbert) Bluem did not want to devote sufficient time to him."
WASHINGTON POST: There is a point at which the soliciting of deference to a Russian 'psychological factor' verges on the frivolous
Two more national U.S. newspapers yesterday expressed their views on NATO enlargement, as the country's Senate prepares to debate and vote on the issue. In its editorial, the Washington Post says "the core issue remains what it has always been. Should the United States push its security frontier into the formerly Moscow-ruled territories liberated by the end of the Cold War?" The paper states its position: "We share the pro-enlargement view that it is a fitting, prudent and desirable exercise of American power to shelter the new democracies in an arc whose instability has repeatedly meant chaos, repression and war. The contrary, anti-enlargement view is that such a reach would commit the United States to boundless new troubles and overwhelm Russia's pursuit of democracy to boot."
The editorial dismisses that anti-expansion argument in these words: "The new Russia is not the old Soviet Union. But it is not yet the new Russia of its own high aspirations either. Already NATO, to accommodate Russia, has made structural changes so far-reaching and so favorable to Moscow as to stir serious apprehensions of the 'dilution' of the Alliance. Russian officials pocket these gains and ask for more. Attentiveness to Russian political priorities is all very well. But there is a point at which the soliciting -- Russian or American -- of deference to a Russian 'psychological factor' verges on the frivolous.
USA TODAY: NATO has an unblemished track record as a solely defensive alliance
The newspaper USA Today makes a similar argument in its editorial, writing: "Expanding the NATO alliance -- gradually and with caution -- is worth the risk. And Russian fears can be overcome with facts." The paper says: "NATO has an unblemished track record as a solely defensive alliance. A larger NATO will not change that mission. Russian President Boris Yeltsin basically acknowledged the diminished threat in December when he announced a 40 percent unilateral cut of ground and naval forces in northwestern Russia. And in public opinion polls, Russian citizens voice many more concerns about domestic issues such as crime and jobs than concern about who gets into NATO next."
KANSAS CITY STAR: The Senate should approve NATO expansion
The regional newspaper Kansas City Star yesterday also declared itself for NATO enlargement. In an editorial, the paper wrote: "It would be a mistake to assume that, if once again the center cannot hold in Eastern Europe, then somehow the United States could remain aloof. Two world wars teach otherwise. Sooner or later, any force that destabilizes Eastern Europe will draw in the United States. If later, the cost in blood and treasure would be far higher. The Senate should approve NATO expansion."
INDEPENDENT: How different is NATO enlargement from EU enlargement
In Britain's Independent newspaper today, Rupert Cornwell tells what he calls "a tale of two enlargements," the EU's and NATO's. Cornwell calls the EU's London conference "a worthy exercise in summitry, but a somewhat pointless one, alas, given that it was devised above all to humor Turkey, the Union's perpetually jilted suitor....(With) Ankara staying away...present and aspiring EU members will (discuss) issues of common concern, like cross-border crime and the environment." He continues: "Simultaneously, 3,000 miles away...another enlargement -- that of NATO to embrace Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary -- glides softly through the U.S. Congress....The full Senate vote to ratify (NATO expansion) could come within days. And this, as they say, is the big one....Assuming America gives the lead, do not expect any of the other 15 Alliance members to demur."
But Cornwell adds: "How different is NATO enlargement from EU enlargement: so simple, so quick, and yet of such utterly dubious merit." He argues that, in expanding NATO, "Russia cannot be ignored...Because of NATO, the Russian Parliament is refusing to endorse the START-II Treaty (reducing) nuclear weapons....Moscow (also) is less likely to ask the U.S. to assist in preventing nuclear proliferation." Cornwell concludes: "There are good reasons for the EU to keep Turkey in the cold, and the price to pay may be small. In the case of NATO and Russia, however, the reasons are threadbare, and the price could be terribly high."