EU says Turkey’s Membership Candidacy Not Assured

TAMPERE–Finland (Reuters)–European Union leaders warned Turkey on Saturday it should not take for granted that it will be made a candidate for membership at a year-end EU summit.

Leaders–gathered in southern Finland for a two-day meeting on justice and home affairs–said all 15 EU countries wanted to give Turkey its coveted candidacy in December–but that it would have to address concerns over Cyprus and human rights first.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder told a news conference at the summit’s end that he believed Turkey would be made a candidate when the 15-nation bloc’s leaders next meet in Helsinki on December 10-11.

But he said all EU member states would have to be fully on board.

"I assume that Turkey will get the candidate status in Helsinki," Schroeder said. "I think we can do it–but in the face of unanimity."

Danish Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen told Reuters Turkey still had a lot to do to meet EU concerns before getting its invitation card at the Helsinki summit.

"A decision will be taken in Helsinki," he said. "That will follow contacts with the Turkish authorities. There’s a lot to be done on the Turkish side."

The EU leaders were meeting only three days after the European Commission proposed making Turkey a formal candidate for membership to avoid isolating it at a time the EU’s eastern expansion talks are set to double to 12 from six countries.

The Commission also recommended that formal membership negotiations be started with Malta–Bulgaria–Latvia–Lithuania–Romania and Slovakia.

They would join Cyprus–the Czech Republic–Estonia–Hungary–Poland and Slovenia–which are already in formal negotiations.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou told Reuters in an interview it was not a foregone conclusion that Turkey would be also made a candidate.

Asked if he had doubts that Turkey would be invited–he said "Yes I do. It’s not sure at all. We have still six weeks ahead of us and there’s still much to discuss."

Greece wants talks to start before the Helsinki summit on patching up the island of Cyprus–divided since Turkey sent troops into the north of the island in response to a Greek Cypriot coup backed by Athens.

It also wants assurances from its EU partners that Cyprus–itself a front-running candidate for membership–will not be kept out of the bloc on account of the division.

Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh reiterated on Saturday in an interview with BBC Radio that Sweden expected Turkey to address the EU’s human rights concerns before Helsinki.

"I think that Turkey has to make improvemen’s both in the field of human rights and also in relations to Greece. This is still an open issue," she said.

"Everybody would like Turkey to be a candidate but they also have to make improvemen’s in the field of human rights. The ball lies with Turkey to really show that they can make improvemen’s."

The EU has been anxious to offer an olive branch to Turkey–a NATO member straddling Europe and Asia.

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