EU to open new talks with Turkey despite Irish vote woes

Ireland's rejection of the EU's Lisbon treaty cast a further shadow on membership prospects, as critics say the "no" vote means no further expansion is possible.

EU to open new talks with Turkey despite Irish vote woes
Foreign Minister Ali Babacan will meet with senior European Union officials today in Luxembourg to formally initiate accession talks on two more chapters, a step that will take Ankara's troubled bid to join the 27-nation bloc a step forward amid worries that Ireland's rejection of the EU reform treaty may block accession of new members.

Turkish and EU officials are set to open the accession talks on company law and intellectual property rights chapters at their intergovernmental conference in Luxembourg, bringing the number of chapters on which talks have so far been opened to eight out of a total 35. The talks began in 2005, but progress has been very slow since then amid widespread public skepticism in Europe toward accepting Turkey and problems over Cyprus. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is also pushing hard to keep Turkey out of Europe, a continent to which he says Turkey does not culturally and geographically belong. Ireland's rejection of the EU's Lisbon treaty at a weekend referendum cast a further shadow on membership prospects, as critics say the "no" vote means no further expansion is possible.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, however, dismissed the argument and said the bloc's commitment to admitting new members from the Balkans and Turkey remains intact after the Irish vote and said opening of talks on more chapters on Tuesday is proof that the EU expansion is on track.

"Despite current difficulties related to the Lisbon treaty, the EU sticks to its word concerning the EU perspective of southeastern Europe, that is the Western Balkans and Turkey," Rehn told Reuters in an interview. "On Tuesday, we'll have concrete proof that the EU accession process is moving ahead as we open some chapters in the accession conference with both Croatia and Turkey."

The Lisbon treaty was designed to give the bloc stronger leadership with a long-term president of the European Council of EU leaders, an enhanced foreign policy leadership with a real diplomatic service, easier decision-making rules and a greater say for the national and European parliaments. The European Parliament has said in a non-binding resolution that there should be no new accessions as long as the Lisbon treaty is not in force.

"As long as the Lisbon treaty is not in force, there can be no further accessions to the EU, with the possible exception of Croatia," European Parliament President Hans-Gert Poettering told Germany's Bild am Sonntag newspaper recently.

The main impact of the Irish vote on enlargement may be to reinforce those who argue that Turkey is too big, poor and culturally different to join the bloc. French Agriculture Minister Michel Barnier appeared to take that line on Sunday when he said the referendum had showed that citizens were afraid of an EU "without borders and limits."

'Closure not business as usual'

EU officials are concerned that Turkey may severely harm its membership prospects in the coming months if, as expected, its Constitutional Court bans the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and bars leading members, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, from office.

Rehn declined to speculate on whether the EU would suspend accession negotiations, formally or informally, in that case but said it was bound to have an impact. "Closing down political parties is not business as usual in a normal democracy in Europe and it is essential that the ruling of the Constitutional Court respect European principles of democracy and the rule of law," he said.

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Last Mod: 17 Haziran 2008, 08:09
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