EU Says No Place for Turkey at Vienna Summit

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–European Union foreign ministers said on Monday Turkey would not be invited to a two-day EU summit in Vienna on Friday to join 11 candidates involved in the 15-nation bloc’s eastward expansion drive.

After a day of wrangling in which Greece dug in its heels against treating Turkey as a candidate member–Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel told a news conference that the current lack of a government in Ankara made an invitation difficult.

He played down talk of a crisis in EU-Turkey relations.

"I don’t think we are facing any serious crisis with Turkey," he said after a meeting in which ministers also favored sending Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) leader Abdullah Ocalan for international trial.

Schuessel said ministers expressed broad support for an international solution to the diplomatic crisis prompted by Ocalan’s arrest in Italy last month.

Turkey holds Ocalan responsible for over 29,000 deaths during the PKK’s 14-year armed struggle for Kurdish self-rule in southeast Turkey and wants him sent back from Italy.

But Rome has rejected this on the grounds that Turkey still has the death penalty in its constitution. Germany–too–has an arrest warrant for Ocalan but has not asked for extradition.

Schuessel said the EU may seek a solution through the Council of Europe or the United Nations that could lead to Ocalan standing trial somewhere in Europe.

"The EU remains entirely opposed to terrorist networks–such as the PKK–and we support international efforts to deal with this," he said–adding that the EU alone had no powers to set up a special criminal tribunal.

A year ago in Luxembourg EU leaders snubbed Turkey’s long-standing bid to join the Western bloc when they left it off an invitation to join the expansion process involving 10 former communist bloc countries and the Mediterranean island of Cyprus.

The EU cited Turkey’s poor human rights record and territorial disputes with NATO ally Greece.

The EU’s tone seemed to soften earlier this year when leaders agreed that while Turkey should remain outside the negotiations proper–it should still be considered a candidate.

The invitation list is open for review when EU leaders meet in Vienna and on Monday Greece fought to have Turkey struck off the candidate list.

Foreign ministers also advised the bloc’s leaders against making any promises to extend the list of countries on fast-track negotiations to EU membership.

Ministers were discussing reports from the bloc’s executive Commission which said Latvia–Lithuania and Slovakia–three of the countries currently on a slow-burner to EU membership–had made enough progress to be offered the prospect of joining talks next year.

"Ministers noted the particular progress made by Latvia and Lithuania and the new situation in Slovakia following the election which augurs well for its integration into European structures," a statement said.

"However–at this stage the Council did not make any recommendations to extend the accession negotiations."

The EU leaders opened membership talks last March–putting five hopefuls – Poland–the Czech Republic–Hungary–Slovenia and Estonia–with Cyprus – on a faster course for entry.

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