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EU: Union Doubles Aid To Turkey, Warns Against Iraq Incursions

The European Commission today updated its pre-accession strategy for Turkey and proposed doubling EU financial assistance to Turkey in the years 2004 to 2006. At the same time, EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen issued a strong warning that any incursions by Turkish forces into northern Iraq could seriously damage Turkey's membership prospects.

Brussels, 26 March 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Today's proposal by the European Commission to update Turkey's pre-accession strategy, further sweetened by a proposal to double EU aid to Ankara from 2004 to 2006, was intended to be good news for Turkey's struggling EU candidacy.

In particular, the increase of funding from roughly 500 million euros ($532 million) envisioned so far for the years 2004 to 2006 to more than a billion euros was designed to help improve EU-Turkish relations, after EU leaders refused to give Turkey a start date for accession talks at their Copenhagen summit last December.

However, the good news was immediately soured by warnings from the commission to Turkey that military interference in northern Iraq, as well as lagging democratic reforms, could seriously damage the country's membership chances.

Presenting the updated strategy for Turkey today, EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen noted the EU's intention is to boost the "reform forces" in internal discussions of political and economic reforms.

However, Verheugen immediately acknowledged that long-term plans are difficult to pursue in what he said is an "extraordinarily difficult situation" for Turkey.

He issued a pointed warning to Ankara to desist from any military incursions into northern Iraq, saying that as a candidate country, Turkey must observe "the fundamental principles" of EU foreign policy, as well as the common interests laid down by EU member states. "[We want to] make it very clear that any crossing of Turkish troops into northern Iraq is undesirable and will have to be taken [into] account in the final assessment of whether Turkey is ready to accede [to the EU]," Verheugen said.

It wasn't clear how this would fit in with a comment made yesterday by a spokesman for Romano Prodi, the president of the European Commission. Prodi's spokesman said the EU had accepted assurances from Turkey that any deployment of Turkish forces to northern Iraq would only have "humanitarian goals."

Verheugen today spent most of his presentation of Turkey's pre-accession strategy highlighting problems.

He put a particular emphasis on Turkey's continuing inability -- or unwillingness -- to meet the EU's political accession criteria. Yet, Verheugen stressed, it is precisely the political criteria that will determine next year whether the commission will give its go-ahead to opening accession negotiations with the country. "This is the yardstick for the report the commission will present next year on the state of Turkey's preparations for accession. Everything to do with the political criteria must receive a positive assessment [from the European Commission]. Not a single topic is excepted, and the demands we set on Turkey are high, but I believe, however, when I observe the resolve of the present government and the results of the reform process over the past two years, that it can be done," Verheugen said.

Nevertheless, Verheugen went on to list Turkey's "deficiencies" one by one. He said he wanted to emphasize that there are still "implementation deficiencies as regards combating torture [and] the granting of cultural rights."

Verheugen said he "would also like to point out to Turkey that we still see legislative shortcomings, especially concerning the freedoms of assembly; expression; and, in particular, conscience," meaning religious practices.

Verheugen also said Turkey must radically review the role of the military in political decision making. He said Turkey's membership cannot be contemplated before its political structures comply with EU standards.

Verheugen briefly broached the subject of Cyprus. Without directly referring to his earlier warnings that accession talks with Turkey can only be initiated once Ankara officially recognizes the Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia, he said the commission expects to hold a meeting with Turkey "after the end of the war in Iraq" but before the commission prepares its final report on Turkey's accession readiness late next year.

Verheugen nevertheless rejected suggestions that in light of all the problems and uncertainties, the new pre-accession strategy -- together with the funding increase -- should have been delayed. He noted that a decision by the commission not to approve the document today would have sent a "very dramatic" signal to Turkey.