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EU: Germany, France Propose Giving Turkey 'Clear Signal' About Membership

Germany and France have agreed that next week's European Union summit meeting in Copenhagen should give Turkey a clear signal about opening negotiations on its possible entry into the European Union. Neither has given any details of whether they will seek a specific date for the start of accession talks with Ankara. Commentators in both countries believe the move could run into domestic political opposition from those who oppose Turkey's membership in the EU.

Munich, 5 December 2002 (RFE/RL) -- German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said after a meeting with French President Jacques Chirac yesterday that they want to give Turkey a clear idea about its prospects for possible entry into the European Union. Speaking to journalists after an informal dinner at Storkow, near Berlin, Schroeder offered no firm date for the start of accession talks with Turkey. He said the details of the Franco-German position are still under discussion and will be worked out by their respective foreign ministers before next week's EU summit in Copenhagen. "As regards the expectations that Turkey has for the Copenhagen summit, we are sure that, first, France and Germany will have a common position at the summit. Second, [we are sure] that there will be a clear signal for Turkey. Details will be worked out by our foreign ministers ahead of the Copenhagen summit," Schroeder said.

In Turkey today, a government spokesman welcomed the statement but expressed regret that Germany and France had not gone further and proposed a suggested date for the start of accession talks. Turkish officials have said frequently that they hope talks can begin soon after the current candidate members join in 2004.

The Anatolia news agency quoted Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul as saying that Turkey wants a definite date for EU talks to begin and that anything less is unacceptable. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of Turkey's ruling party, told the Turkish daily "Radikal" that Ankara will not accept a conditional date for talks to begin.

Turkey first applied for membership in the European Union in 1963, and it was promised in 1987 that its application would be considered. It has complained since then about the lack of progress. In 1997, Ankara briefly froze ties with the European Union after an EU summit in Luxembourg rejected its plea that it should at least be given encouragement if it could not be admitted quickly.

German political analyst Karl-Heinz Mueller said today that the Copenhagen summit could find itself in a difficult position if Germany and France press other countries to accept a date for the start of negotiations with Turkey. The last EU summit meeting in Brussels in October opposed suggestions that Turkey be given a date at the Copenhagen conference.

Like other German commentators, Mueller said the European Union is under strong pressure from the United States to give Turkey some encouragement that its application will be studied soon. He said the United States sees Turkey, which is a Muslim state, as an important partner in a possible war against Iraq and in the campaign against international terrorism. It believes that giving Turkey candidate status in the EU would strengthen its ties to the West.

In his talk with journalists last night, German Chancellor Schroeder said Turkey has taken important steps recently to improve its human rights record -- for years the main source of opposition to its membership in the EU. He said Ankara also played a pivotal role in the recent international attempts to reach a settlement between the Greek and Turkish communities on the divided island of Cyprus.

Schroeder also said Europe has a responsibility to ensure that Turkey does not "drift away into the world of fundamentalism" if it is rejected by Western Europe.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer emphasized the strategic importance of Turkey in the campaign against terrorism. Fischer rejected suggestions that Germany is acting under pressure from the United States, saying, "We will make no decision that is not in our own interests."

Commentators say that both Schroeder and French President Chirac will find strong opposition in their own countries to opening even preliminary negotiations with Turkey. In the German parliament yesterday, Schroeder came under sharp attack from the opposition Christian Democrats. Opposition leader Angela Merkel suggested that instead of membership, Turkey should be offered what she called a "privileged partnership" with the European Union.

The opposition's foreign-policy spokesman, Wolfgang Schaueble, said he imagines a relationship similar to that between Russia and NATO.

The Christian Democrat premier of the state of Hesse, Roland Koch, has suggested that he might try to exploit hostility to Turkish EU membership in his campaign to retain power in state elections in February.

The Christian Democratic opposition rejects suggestions that it opposes Turkish membership in the EU because it is not a Christian country. It says its opposition is based on the fact that Turkey has a different culture than Western European countries and does not share the same history and values.

Much the same arguments were heard in France last month from former President Valery Giscard d'Estaing. Commentators say his views cannot be ignored because he now holds the important role of chairman of the Convention on the Future of Europe, an ambitious effort to write a constitution for the European Union.

Giscard d'Estaing told the French newspaper "Le Monde" on 8 November that Turkey is not part of Europe. He said the Turks have a different culture and way of life, and he predicted the end of the European Union if Ankara is admitted.

Giscard d'Estaing's statements were well received in right-wing and conservative circles in France, particularly among the right-wing groups that made a strong showing in the first round of the French elections.

Commentators in Germany said today that this suggests that Chirac may also meet strong opposition if he tries to suggest a date for beginning negotiations on Turkish entry into the EU.