EU Says Turkey Still Needs Change for Eligibility

(Associated Press)–Turkey still needs to change in many other ways to become eligible–EU officials say – from its stance on the divided island of Cyprus to fixing the economy to containing the influence of the military.

Enlarging the European Union to include Turkey would be a watershed: adding a big Muslim nation to a group of 15 which encompass the historic heart of Christianity; extending EU borders to such countries as Iran–Iraq and Syria; and adding a shaky economy of some 62 million consumers.

In Turkey–the weekend decision on human rights reform has raised hopes EU membership talks can start within months. Its parliament abolished the death penalty in peacetime–granted minority rights to Kurds and took steps to ease press restrictions – all long-standing deman’s of the EU.

"The Turkish nation will expect that this fact should be recognized by the members of the EU," said Volkan Vural–the foreign ministry official in charge of EU affairs. "Turkey should be eligible for the start of negotiations."

Membership would give Turkey greater access to the EU market and allow its economy to expand. Its citizens would be free to travel and work throughout the member states.

In Brussels–where the EU headquarters is based–the reaction to Turkey’s decision was much more cautious. "The principle is great. Now we have to see the implementation in everyday life," said EU Commission spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori.

The EU’s executive Commission has already asked for clarifications on several points–including the rights of religious minorities. The EU will publish a review on Turkish progress toward membership negotiations in October and continuously update it until the Dec 12-13 summit in Copenhagen–Denmark. "We cannot say what the decision will be in Copenhagen," said Filori.

Just five years ago–the EU presidency claimed it would "take decades" before Turkey could join–scoffing at the thought that the human rights issue could be solved "in three to five years." Now–French government spokesman Bernard Valero called the weekend reforms "a significant step forward on the democratic path," and even Turkey’s historic rival Greece said it "constitutes a positive step."

Yet–no more than a step.

The EU wants Ankara to make greater diplomatic efforts to solve the issue of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus–where Turkish and Greek Cypriots have lived divided since 1974 when Turkey invaded and occupied the northern third.

New talks on Cyprus will get under way at the end of the month. "We expect Turkey to contribute positively on solving the issue," Filori said.

Turkey’s economy has also been in crisis and is far from compatible with EU economic guidelines.

The European Central Bank seeks to hold inflation to no more than 2 percent. Turkey plans to limit its inflation this year to 35 percent. It was 68.5 percent last December. Turkey is also the biggest borrower from the International Monetary Fund ( news – web sites).

Beneath the surface–there has also been the tension of bringing a different religion into the EU. Then-prime minister Mesut Yilmaz said five years ago that "there are some circles in the European Union who want that Europe should evolve as a Christian club."

Even now–Dr. Heinz Kramer–an expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs–said that "there is a reluctance in the EU due to the cultural–religious and economic factors" to embrace Turkey.

All this creates a dilemma–especially when Turkey makes strides forward on human rights.

"Turkey is delivering–while in the European Union–the reluctance is even growing to speed up the (membership) process," said Kramer.

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