EU Hints: Turkey Faces Long Wait for Accession Talks

BRUSSELS (Reuters)–The European Commission indicated on Thursday that Turkey might still have a long time to wait before the European Union is ready to set a date for launching the accession talks Ankara desperately seeks.

Turkey recently approved a package of political reforms – including abolition of the death penalty in peacetime and boosting cultural rights of its Kurdish minority – in the hope of winning a date at an EU summit in Copenhagen in December.

But briefing reporters on a meeting between European Commissioner Guenter Verheugen and new Turkish Foreign Minister Sukru Sina Gurel–a Commission spokesman’said Turkey would need to show it had made progress in implementing the reforms.

"It is not just the texts as such adopted by parliament but the way they are actually implemented and how they affect the daily life of citizens," spokesman Jean-Christophe Filori said.

"Implementation is very important. We treat all candidate countries in the same way," he added.

The next big step in the enlargement process is the publication of the Commission’s annual reports on the candidate countries on October 16. On the basis of those reports–the EU will decide how to proceed with all the candidates.

"We are in a process of examination (of Turkey’s reforms). We will come back on October 16 with an overview of all issues regarding human rights and democracy," Filori said.

Not Far Enough

However–signaling the latest reforms might not be enough–he added: "It goes beyond…the issues in the reform package in the summer."

EU diplomats say the August package–though welcome–fails to address some of their concerns–such as the role of the powerful armed forces in Turkish politics.

Ankara–now in the throes of an economic crisis and acute political uncertainty ahead of a November 3 general election–has long complained the EU fails to make allowances for Turkey as a strategic Western ally in a turbulent region.

It also suspects some EU governmen’s secretly oppose the accession of a largely Muslim country with a rapidly expandingpopulation of 68 million and whose borders stretch to Iraq.

Gurel–who replaced the veteran pro-EU liberal Ismail Cem during a political crisis in the summer–gave Verheugen the timetable for implementing the new reforms–Filori said.

Verheugen told Gurel the October report for Turkey would provide a "summary table" on the human rights situation.

Concern about its human rights record is the main reason why Turkey remains the only one of the 13–mostly ex-communist–candidate countries still waiting to open accession talks.

Filori said Verheugen and Gurel had also briefly touched on the issue of Cyprus ahead of Friday’s meeting in Paris between U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the leaders of the divided island’s two communities–the Greek and the Turkish Cypriots.

"Verheugen expressed confidence there is still enough time to reach an agreement between the two parties," Filori said.

Cyprus–a candidate country which is on track to close accession talks with the EU in December–is a potential flashpoint in Turkey’s troubled relations with Brussels.

The bloc says it is prepared to admit Cyprus as a divided island in the absence of a political settlement. But if it does so–Turkey says it might forcibly "annex" the breakaway Turkish Cypriot northern part.

Turkey invaded Cyprus in 1974 after a short-lived Greek Cypriot coup engineered by the military junta then in Athens.

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