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Western Press Review: Turkey's EU Candidacy

Prague, 13 December 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The Western press today comments on decisions made at the Helsinki summit of European Union leaders, with much attention paid to Turkey's acceptance as an EU candidate. There is also brief commentary on Russia's role in world politics.

NEW YORK TIMES: Turkey's new status marks a historic step

In the New York Times today, an editorial says that the Turkey's new status as an EU candidate country is, in the editorial's words, "one of these developments that mark a historic step beyond restrictive old rivalries and power alignments."

This agreement has the potential to be good for Turkey, Western Europe and America, the New York Times says. For Turkey, in the words of the editorial, "joining the EU can provide the chance Turkish governments have sought for years, with strong backing from Washington, to assure their strategically located country's full integration into the democratic West." And for the West, the paper says, the agreement is important for relations with the East, because of Turkey's strategic location bridging Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The editorial says that most democratic elements in Turkey favor the idea of possible EU membership and, in its words, "expect closer formal ties with the union to have positive effects on Turkish law and political life, which remains heavily influenced by the military."

The paper says some Turks are worried that their country will now be expected to conform to strict European human rights standards. "But this," the editorial says, "like the other conditions, imposes no unfair or discriminatory burden on Turkey. The same standards would be imposed on any candidate for EU membership."

ELEFTHEOTYPIA: Now Greece and Turkey can leave the tensions

In Greece, an editorial in the Eleftheotypia yesterday also looks upon Turkey's candidacy as an opportunity for progress in peace. In the words of the editorial: "After the decision of Helsinki, the Greek government can afford to propose initiatives for Greek-Turkish rapprochement within the realm of the European Union."

The editorial considers other recent behavior showing that Greece and Turkey appear ready to maintain better relations. As the editorial says, "With the earthquakes in Greece and Turkey a climate of d�tente emerged between the two peoples, who showed that they did not want tension, but peaceful coexistence and cooperation." The editorial continues, "Now the two countries can leave the tensions -- which cost them so much, and still cost them in their arms race -- behind."

The editorial advises that the two countries sign a non-aggression pact as well as an arms reduction treaty. Both developments would help the two countries save greatly needed funds, the paper says. Turkey, in the Greek editorial's words, "particularly needs funds to develop its economy so that it can reach European standards and secure the conditions for EU accession."

KATHIMERINI: The question is whether Athens and Ankara will manage to take advantage of this new factor

In more commentary from Greece yesterday, Costas Iordanidis, writing for the Kathimerini, pointed out that the Helsinki decision on Turkey's candidacy does not solve any problems between Greece and Turkey. But the commentator said it does offer a new dynamic. In the commentator's words, "The question is whether Athens and Ankara will manage to take advantage of this new factor to change the political climate in the region permanently."

Iordanidis continues, "The challenge for the Greek government is smaller and less risky than the changes that Turkey's political regime will have to go through. Moreover, Greece can hope for quicker and more direct benefits from improved relations."

Turkey, the Greek commentator says, faces many changes: "Adapting to the EU --even in the long term -- means that the military regime will have to play a smaller role in Turkey's political life, that the minority rights of the Kurds will have to be recognized and that the protectionism in force in many sectors of the Turkish economy will have to be abolished."

The commentator concludes: "Essentially, the EU candidacy granted Turkey will show if Ankara is really prepared or able to move in a clearly European direction."

SUEDDEUTSCHE ZEITUNG: Now the EU will have to see how it grows into the jacket and trousers

In Germany, commentator Abdras Oldag, writing today in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, offers some skepticism about the decision at the Helsinki summit to invite so many more countries to be candidates to the EU -- particularly Turkey. In Oldag's words: "The European Union has been courageous. ... [It] has put on a suit size XXL. Now it will have to see how it grows into the jacket and trousers."

Oldag says with the EU's current course, it will have to show flexibility in the future, especially with Turkey's possible membership. In the words of the commentator, "According to current Brussels standards, [Turkey] could require a large portion of the funds for construction of economically weak regions." Oldag says the EU should remember this when considering other possible candidacies. In his words, "The Union must therefore ask itself whether it is at all meaningful to make offers of membership to countries which are economically backward and will take decades to build their economy."


In more German commentary, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung also expresses skepticism about the decision to invite Turkey as a candidate for membership.

In the editorial's words, "No one doubts that there are good reasons to bind Turkey close to the EU. For over fifty years the country has been a member of NATO and has proved to be a reliable partner during these years. This gives grounds why America has been urging the Europeans for a long time to anchor this country tightly into its community." Yet the editorial asks: "But is full membership [in the EU] really the condition for Ankara's remaining a stable partner of Europe?"

Many European politicians, the FAZ says, think it will be years before Turkey can fulfill the Copenhagen criteria for membership -- and some think it may never happen. The EU took the path of, in the German paper's words, "rashly promising a yes in order to gain some calm in the short term, and waiting until tomorrow to figure out whether the yes was justified."

FINANCIAL TIMES: Taking in so many new members is a right move

London's Financial Times' editorial wraps up the Helsinki summit with praise: "By throwing open its doors to seven new candidates for membership, including Turkey, the EU is preparing to become a pan-European group, not just a club of the rich. And by including Turkey, it would accept a frontier well beyond the borders of what used to be called Christendom."

Another important step the EU took, the editorial says, was to set up an intergovernmental conference to review the EU treaty again. However, the paper warns, "there is danger that in their desire to keep the process manageable, most EU leaders will try to minimize the constitutional reforms."

A hesitant attitude will not work, in the words of the editorial: "The prospect of an EU of 28 members surely requires more radical surgery to prevent legislative gridlock. The addition of a defense arm also needs a proper constitutional basis."

The editorial concludes, "Taking in so many new members will be expensive and disruptive. It is the right move. But a skeptical public will have to be persuaded of that."

WASHINGTON POST: Russia's only claim to the world's deference is through the trouble it can cause

Closing with a different subject, the Washington Post has an editorial today regarding Russian President Boris Yeltsin's comments last week when he said, "[U.S. President Bill Clinton] must have forgotten for a moment what Russia is. It has a full arsenal of nuclear weapons." Yeltsin was responding to Clinton's criticism of the conduct of the war in Chechnya.

The editorial has this to say about Yeltsin's words: "Some have seen...a plainly bellicose threat. Others saw the comment as further evidence of Mr. Yeltsin's ill health and unpredictability. There may be truth in both readings. But the comment is also something more poignant and revealing. It is an acknowledgment that Russia's only claim to the world's deference--respect would not be the right word--is through the trouble it can cause."

Russia's economy, the Washington Post says, is shrinking, and with it Russia's influence. In the editorial's words, "[Russia] clamors for notice mostly in negative ways: by overtly or covertly selling, or threatening to sell, weapons or nuclear technology to troublemakers around the world; by frightening the world with the parlous state of its atomic energy plants or its millennium-unready computers; by brandishing its decaying but still immense nuclear arsenal."

With Russian parliamentary elections less than a week away, the editorial concludes with these words: "A Russian government that promoted economic reform and a rule of law could yet allow them to put their country back on track. Mr. Yeltsin's latest growl is a sad admission of how far short of that goal his regime has fallen."

(Alexis Papasotiriou and Dora Slaba contributed to this report.)