EU reluctantly agrees to set up 'reflection group'

Pressed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, leaders of the European Union countries reluctantly agreed at a summit yesterday to create a panel to debate the future direction of the 27-nation bloc.

EU reluctantly agrees to set up 'reflection group'

Contrary to original French demands, however, the bloc will not discuss the EU's eventual borders or enlargement, a mandate which Sarkozy had hoped would keep Turkey out of the union. The "reflection group" will discuss "key issues and developments which the union is likely to face" in the years 2020-2030, according to a statement released at the end of Friday's EU summit in Brussels. The panel is to report back to EU leaders by 2010.

The EU foreign ministers, meeting ahead of the summit on Monday, agreed to drop any reference to "accession" or "membership" in regard to Turkey's EU bid in the text of the meeting's final statement, again under French pressure. The Monday decision has caused "serious displeasure," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement released earlier in the week. In line with Monday's decision, there was no mention of Turkey's EU bid in Friday's summit statement.

In an effort to block any progress toward Turkish membership, Sarkozy, who says Turkey has no place in the EU, launched the idea of establishing a committee of "wise men" in July and has been insisting lately that there should be no mention of "accession" in EU texts in regard to Turkey's EU bid. Since July, the group's mandate, and name, has been changed and does not mention either "boundaries" or "enlargement."

The decision to set up the reflection group, however, is expected to be enough to secure French agreement to allow Turkey to open another two of the 35 policy chapters, which each EU candidate nations must successfully negotiate in order to be eligible for membership, next week.

Most of the EU leaders were unhappy with the idea of a "reflection group" but, faced with the dire necessity to win unanimous backing for a key treaty to replace a failed draft constitution for the bloc, they agreed to insistent demands from Paris. The EU leaders on Thursday signed the Lisbon Treaty, which, when ratified by member states, will streamline the functioning of the bloc.

"This idea to create a reflection group did not come from us," said Finland's Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen, adding that the launch of the "group of wise men" will have no bearing on Turkey's efforts to join the bloc, as France had originally hoped. Other leaders said the group was a serious issue for only one state -- France.

"It is not our idea. We will support the group today, but we think we are able to reflect by ourselves," said Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen. "It's something that we reluctantly agreed to because it is important for one big member state."

"Why another reflection group? We've only just come out of a period of reflection," said Graham Watson, leader of the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, referring to the one-year period when the EU was reshaping its failed draft constitution into the Lisbon Treaty.

Turkey critic in charge

The reflection group will be led by former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez. The socialist politician who governed Spain from 1982 to 1996 is a past critic of Turkey's EU membership bid and Sarkozy appeared to have scored a point by stealth with his choice. Spanish newspapers quoted the ex-premier in May 2004 as telling a Universal Forum of Cultures in Barcelona there were limits to the enlargement of Europe, which should "stop at the borders of Turkey" because of social and cultural differences. Asked about those comments, Gonzalez's spokesman Joaquin Tagar told Reuters in Madrid on Friday: "He was just expressing a theoretical opinion, not taking a definite position on the matter. He was just pointing out the difference between European and Turkish culture." Pressed to say what Gonzalez's position on Turkey's candidacy was now, he said: "What he e has been saying in recent times is that if the European Union has a commitment to Turkey, it should honor it."

Some politicians were critical of the choice of a leader from the 1980s to study the EU's future. "If you ever wanted to see Jurassic Park in reality, then this appointment (of Gonzalez) is just that," said Watson. "It's not about age, but all three of the panel so far represent old Europe." Sarkozy said on Friday the group would also study the issue of EU borders, not specifically Turkey. "We cannot talk about the European project without raising the question of its territory," a French diplomat said.

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Güncelleme Tarihi: 16 Aralık 2007, 10:58